* Death toll rises to 160, could go much higher
* Cracks found in building day before collapse - police,
* Canada's Loblaw says one factory supplied it with garments
By Serajul Quadir and Ruma Paul
DHAKA, April 25 (Reuters) - The death toll from a building
collapse in Bangladesh has risen to 160 and could climb higher,
police said on Thursday, with people trapped under the rubble of
a complex that housed garment factories supplying retailers in
Europe and North America.
The collapse, the third catastrophic incident at Bangladeshi
factories in five months that have killed more than 200 people,
could taint Bangladesh's reputation as a source of low-cost
products and services and call attention to Western retailers
and other companies that obtain products from the country.
Frantic rescue workers were digging through the rubble of
the eight-storey Rana Plaza building in Savar, 30 km (20 miles)
outside the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, which collapsed on
Wednesday. More than 1,000 people were injured.
"The death toll could go up as many are still trapped under
the rubble," Dhaka's district police chief, Habibur Rahman, told
Reuters on Thursday.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association
(BGMEA) president Mohammad Atiqul Islam said there were 3,122
workers in the factories on Wednesday. He said there had been
indications from Savar officials that cracks had been found in
the building the day before.
"We asked the garment owners to keep it closed," Islam said.
Rana Plaza's owner had told proprietors of the building's
five garment factories that the cracks were not dangerous, Islam
added. "After getting the green signal from the plaza owner all
the garment factories opened," he said.
However, police official Mohammad Asaduzzaman said factory
owners appeared to have ignored a warning not to allow their
workers into the building after a crack was detected on Tuesday.
News reports beamed around the world showed young women
workers, some apparently semi-conscious, being pulled out of the
rubble by firefighters and troops. Doctors at Dhaka hospitals
said they couldn't cope with the number of victims.
"I was at work on the third floor, and then suddenly I heard
a deafening sound, but couldn't understand what was happening. I
ran and was hit by something on my head," said factory worker
BUILDING FIRES, COLLAPSE
The Rana Plaza building collapse follows a November fire at
the Tazreen Fashion factory on the outskirts of Dhaka that
killed 112 people, and it has compounded concerns about worker
safety and low wages in Bangladesh.
Soon after the collapse, Canada's Loblaw came forward to
confirm a connection with the building. It said one factory made
a small number of "Joe Fresh" apparel items for the company.
"We are extremely saddened to learn of the collapse of a
building complex in Bangladesh and our condolences go out to
those affected by this tragedy," Julija Hunter, public relations
vice-president for Loblaw Companies, said in an email.
"We will be working with our vendor to understand how we may
be able to assist them during this time," Hunter said.
Loblaw Companies Ltd makes Joe Fresh clothing as well
as President's Choice supermarket packaged food. Its parent is
food processing and distribution firm George Weston Ltd,
according to Reuters data.
Loblaw said it set vendor standards to ensure that products
are made "in a socially responsible way" and conducts regular
audits. Those standards include prohibiting child harassment and
abuse or forced labour, and ensuring fair pay and benefits.
Bangladesh employs about 3.6 million people in the garment
industry and is the world's second-largest apparel exporter.
Following the Tazreen fire, giant U.S. retailer Wal-Mart
Stores Inc. said it would take steps to alleviate safety
concerns, while Gap Inc. announced a four-step
"Still we are struggling to overcome the odds after the
Tazreen fire, now another incident which is a strong blow for
the sector," BGMEA's Islam said.
However, Edward Hertzman, a sourcing agent based in New York
who also publishes trade magazine Sourcing Journal, said
pressure from U.S. retailers to keep a lid on costs continues to
foster unsafe conditions.
Hertzman, whose trade publication has offices in Bangladesh,
said New Wave Bottoms Ltd occupied the second floor, Phantom
Apparels Ltd the third, Phantom Tack Ltd the fourth and Ethar
Textile Ltd the fifth.
The New Wave website listed 27 main buyers, including firms
from Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Canada
and the United States.