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17 Mar 2015

Harpreet Kaur, South Asia Researcher, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

No way to mark the 2nd anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh

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Nearly two years ago, Rana Plaza, an eight-story factory building in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed.  The collapse killed more than 1300 garment workers and left over 2000 injured.   

Then as the second anniversary approached, on 12 March this year news broke about a cement-factory building collapse.   Seven people died and more than 60 were injured after the roof of the partially-built factory collapsed in the town part of Mongla, about 125 miles from Dhaka.

Since Rana Plaza the spotlight has been (too late) on improving conditions in the garment industry – yet even there, the pace of progress has been disappointing as a recent report by Danwatch highlights: “The Lost Thread – Violations and abuse of power in the garment industry in Bangladesh.”

This recent incident reflects the fact that less attention has been paid to other industries such as leather, construction and cement: which do not have prominent links through to international supply chains.

For example, the Bangladeshi NGO Safety & Rights Society has reported that the construction sector accounts for the highest proportion of workers deaths (34% of total workers deaths) followed by manufacturing (including apparel – though the major single incident of Rana Plaza was not included in the totals), service sector, and transport.

The cement factory where the 12 March accident occurred is run by the army, which stated that it awarded the work on construction to China National Building Material Company Limited.  However the Chinese company sub-contracted a local agent to build the roof – demonstrating the similar layers of sub-contracting that pose a major obstacle to improvements in the garment industry.

The investigation is still underway and hopefully there will still be clearer reasons for the collapse.  In the interim, it is glaringly clear that improving building safety is a fundamental step to stem the excessive loss of workers’ lives and extent of workers’ injuries in Bangladesh.  Sarah Labowitz of the NYU Stern Center for Human Rights and Business has pointed to the “Blight Removal Task Force” for the city of Detroit in the USA as providing some examples that could be followed.

It is time for concerted and rapid efforts by the Bangladeshi government and by companies in all sectors, not only apparel, to resolve the structural issues that put workers’ lives at risk in Bangladesh.


Read on:

Bangladesh: Workers' deaths & injuries in the cement factory collapse reaffirms safety gaps in factories (compilation of news stories)

"More Rana Plazas are waiting to happen," Harpreet Kaur, 22 April 2014