Two years after more than 1,100 people died in the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, authorities have filed murder charges against 41 people — including government officials and the factory's owner.
On Monday, the lead investigator, Bijoy Krishna Kar of the Criminal Investigation Department, announced that the charges had been filed against the building's owner, Sohel Rana, his parents, and more than a dozen government employees who allegedly played a direct role in the deaths.
Investigators initially said the accused would be charged with culpable homicide, but they later changed their plans due to the gravity of the accident, which was Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster.
If convicted of murder, the defendants could face the death penalty, while the maximum punishment for culpable homicide is seven years in jail.
Investigators said the shift from the reduced charges came after the investigation found that Rana, his staff and the management of the five factories had forced the workers to enter the building despite their unwillingness to work because of major cracks that had appeared in the building.
The police report called the deaths a "mass killing," and about 2,500 people in total were injured in the disaster.
Kar, who submitted the charges to a court in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka said a hearing would take place on June 28 when further proceedings would be decided on.
In a separate case, the accused will also face charges of violating safety rules in the construction of Rana Plaza because additional floors were added to the original five-story building, which was basically meant for office and shopping malls. Later, illegally built upper floors were transformed into factories.
The April 24, 2013 collapse highlighted grim conditions in Bangladesh's garment industry. Extremely low wages in the poor South Asian country have led global brands and retailers to prefer Bangladesh over China and other developing countries.
However, in the two years since tragedy conditions for workers had shown little improvement, according to an April report by Human Rights Watch.
In a statement sent to VICE News, Phil Robertson, the NGO's Asia deputy director, warned of the lack of accountability: "If Bangladesh wants to avoid another Rana Plaza disaster, it needs to effectively enforce its labor law and ensure that garment workers enjoy the right to voice their concerns about safety and working conditions without fear of retaliation or dismissal."
"If Bangladesh does not hold factory managers accountable who attack workers and deny the right to form unions, the government will perpetuate practices that have cost the lives of thousands of workers," Robertson added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.