—File Photo.

DHAKA: Bangladesh has shut down 18 garment plants for safety reasons after a building housing five of the factories collapsed and killed more than 800 people, a minister said Wednesday.

The move comes days after Bangladesh agreed with the International Labour Organisation to give safety “the highest consideration” amid government fears that Western garment firms might start sourcing goods from other countries.

“Sixteen factories have been closed down in Dhaka and two in Chittagong,”textile minister Abdul Latif Siddique told reporters, adding that more plants would be shut as part of strict new measures to ensure safety.

“We'll ensure ILO standards in terms of compliance,” said Siddique, who heads a newly created high-powered panel to inspect the country's 4,500 garment factories in an effort to avoid fresh disasters.

“We have seen that those who claim to be the best compliant factories in Bangladesh have not fully abided by building regulations,” he added.

The confirmed death toll from Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster hit 803 Wednesday as rescuers pulled dozens more bodies from the rubble of the nine-storey building in the town of Savar, a suburb of Dhaka.

More than 3,000 garment workers were on shift on April 24 when the Rana Plaza complex crumbled as they were turning out clothing for Western retailers such as Britain's Primark and the Spanish label Mango.

A total of 2,437 people were earlier rescued from the ruins.

Cranes and bulldozers kept clearing debris Wednesday as workers drawn from the army and fire service wore masks to ward off the smell of decomposing bodies.

Brigadier General Siddiqul Alam Sikder told AFP the stench of bodies trapped in the lower floors and under beams indicated the death toll would rise.

“We're expecting to find some bodies because we still haven't reached the bottom. We've finished around 70 per cent of the job,” he said.

Efforts to identify bodies were being hampered by their decomposition of bodies, officials added.
Many bodies were found in the staircases.

Panicked garment workers had raced to stairwells in a rush to get out of the building after hearing a loud noise but the compound collapsed within five minutes, trapping them.

The disaster was the latest in a string of deadly accidents to hit the nation's textile industry. Just last November, a factory fire last November killed 111 garment workers.

The government at the weekend in a joint statement with the ILO and factory owners promised to submit to the next parliamentary session a labour law reform package.

It pledged the package would allow “the right to collective bargaining” and provide for “occupational safety and health”.

A preliminary government investigation blamed the collapse on the vibrations of giant electricity generators.

Police have arrested 12 people including the complex's owner and four garment factory owners.

Impoverished Bangladesh is the world's second-largest garment exporter and the industry accounts for over 40 per cent of its industrial workforce and 80 per cent of the nation's exports.