Broad based global and business media are rightfully providing wide scale coverage of the latest factory tragedy within Bangladesh.  On Wednesday of this week, the eight story Rana Plaza factory complex, located in Savar, which is 30 kilometers outside the city of Dhaka, suddenly collapsed trapping thousands of workers.

As we pen this Supply Chain Matters commentary, the death toll has reached 161 with reports of upwards of 1000 injured. Rescue workers continue the frantic search for any additional survivors that may still be alive among the massive rubble. Many of the garment factory workers are once again believed to be women.

We obviously join other voices in the shock and sadness of this incident.

This latest disaster comes less than five months after the factory fire that killed 112 people and underscored the unsafe conditions faced by Bangladesh’s garment workers, who produce clothes for global brands worn around the world. That incident caused global retailers including Wal-Mart to deny that their orders were being sourced at the factory.

According to various media reports, workers at the complex indicated that large cracks had appeared in the lower floors of the building complex earlier in the week but assurances were given that the building was safe to work in. Bangladesh government officials are now threatening criminal charges directed at the owners of the complex.

A published CBS News report indicated that among the textile businesses in the building were Phantom Apparels Ltd., New Wave Style Ltd., New Wave Bottoms Ltd. and New Wave Brothers Ltd., which make clothing for major brands. A Reuters article adds Ether Tex Ltd to the listing. Both AP and Reuters reference the web site of New Wave listing 27 buyers, including firms from Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Canada and the United States. Retailers mentioned as potential customers are issuing various statements of shock and condolence while some are denying any direct work exists. The CBS News story quotes a spokesman at Wal-Mart Stores, the second-largest clothing producer in Bangladesh, indicating that the retailer is investigating to see if a factory in the building was currently producing for the chain. As this latest incident becomes more visible, global labor rights groups are again calling for more accountability and proactive remediation programs for the working conditions that are fostered

This latest tragic accident is again reigniting questions about the often lethal conditions in the country’s garment industry, and the buying practices of large customers who seek lower cost apparel with perceived insensitivity to worker welfare and safety.  After the tragic Tazreen Fashion, Wal-Mart announced new supplier sub-contracting policies while Gap announced a fire-safety program across the country.

As we have noted in earlier commentaries, an environment of see no evil, tell no evil becomes predominant across the world’s number two exporter of apparel products until tragedy occurs. Sadly, there have been multiple tragedies, and one wonders how many more until serious attention is brought to what has caused factories to be so lax.

We join other voices in urging the apparel industry to initiate a serious call to action regarding current global sourcing practices and supplier standards. Our world is much more visible, and the images of these events speak for themselves.

Bob Ferrari