“Yes, there are some problems,” she said, but added that a committee has been formed to ensure the safety of buildings and workers.
“This committee will submit the findings to the Cabinet committee and, side by side, we have been trying our best to improve the situation.”
Asked about reports that only 18 inspectors are responsible for overseeing safety conditions in more than 100,000 garment factories in and around the capital city, she said, “We don’t depend on only … those inspectors.”
Steps to improve conditions were taken before the collapse of the building in Rana Plaza in Savar, she said, citing passage by the Cabinet of a labour law that will be sent to parliament.
Hasina noted that workplace disasters have occurred in the United States, too; she cited last month’s explosion of a fertiliser plant in West, Texas, in which 14 people died.
“Anywhere in the world, any accident can take place,” she said. “You cannot predict anything.”
Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, pointed out that local officials predicted that the building could collapse after cracks appeared on its walls on April 23, and they urged workers not to re-enter it.
“You are very correct,” Hasina said. “Unfortunately, in the morning, the owners of the factories put pressure to labour to enter.”
She praised government officials for trying to prevent the workers at the five garment factories in the building from re-entering it on April 24, the morning of the collapse. “It is not true that the government hasn’t taken any steps,” she said.
She blamed the owners of the five factories as well as Sohel Rana, the building’s owner, and disputed the suggestion that their political connections could protect them.
Rana is under police investigation in relation to the deaths and has had his assets seized. Protesters have called for him to be hanged.
“The law will take its own course,” she said. “Criminal is criminal. They will get all the necessary action; that we can assure you. It is our promise to the people.”
Hasina added, “Any business person, if they commit any kind of crime, our government always takes action.”
She pointed to the companies that source their products from such factories, saying they should pay well enough that factory owners can pay good salaries and ensure the business is safely run. “They’re partly responsible for it,” she said.
And she urged that the disaster be considered in context. “You cannot blame the whole business or whole industry just for one incident,” she said.
Hasina said officials in her government “are in favour of labour,” having increased the minimum wage by 82%, built dormitories and seen to the health care needs of workers.
But the collapse of the building is only the latest in a string of fatal incidents that have beset the industry in recent years. A fire five months ago at a garment maker in another suburb of Dhaka killed at least 112 people.
Hasina expressed little fear that international companies would stop doing business in Bangladesh as a result of the disaster. Investors have tapped into the Bangladeshi market not just because of its high-quality workers, she said. “They get cheap labour,” she said. “That’s why they come here.”
Hasina denied that the killing last year of a labour leader signified that her government is hostile toward unions. Aminul Islam’s body, bearing signs of torture, was found four days after he disappeared in April 2012.
“Nobody knew that he was a labour leader,” she said. It was only after his body was found, she said, “that we came to know that he was a labour leader and he was assassinated.”
More than a year later, she said, the case remains under investigation.
The interview was carried out via satellite by Amanpour in New York and the prime minister in Dhaka. CNN has been unable to gain visas from the Bangladeshi government that would allow the network to send reporters to cover the country first-hand.
That assertion was corroborated by a CNN executive, but the prime minister disputed it. “It is not true,” Hasina said. “We never stop any media to come to Bangladesh.”
Asked about restrictions on coverage imposed by the visa office, she said, “Every country has these rules and regulations.”