Marking the loss and honouring the memory of those who perished in Rana Plaza
Actions to protect rights of garment workers 5 years after the tragedy
Photo: Rana Plaza survivors in therapeutic centre, by ILO in Asia and the Pacific via Flickr
It has been five years since the eight-storey Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring over 2,000 others. We mark this moment by keeping track of efforts being done to ensure the tragedy is not repeated, and highlighting what else is needed.
This page links to stories and initiatives that have been published recently as part of on-going fifth year commemoration efforts by various groups.
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Author: Whitney Bauck, Fashionista (USA)
12 April 2018
[H]ow effective has the Accord been in improving the lives of those who make clothing in Bangladesh, one of the most significant garment exporters in the world? A symposium at the Ford Foundation in New York City on Tuesday convened Accord leadership, Bangladeshi labor activists, academics, journalists and human rights experts to discuss how far we've come — and what needs to happen as the Accord nears the end of its five-year agreement.
Despite the Accord's many accomplishments in the realm of building safety, laborer rights have woefully far to go in Bangladesh. A big part of this has to do with a lack of "freedom of association," or laborers' rights to join unions...Numerous participants at the forum also pointed out that years of voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility programs mostly failed to implement the kind of building safety in Bangladesh that the Accord has been able to accomplish.
Deputy director of the Accord Michael Bride made clear that the Accord has moved the needle some when it comes to helping garment workers know their rights, by distributing pamphlets and holding seminars with more than 2 million workers. Through these programs, the Accord has helped educate workers about a range of issues, like the fact that if a fire starts in the factory, they are not obligated to try and fight it themselves — an idea spread by factory owners who would rather lose a worker's life than see their building burn down. He also noted that a worker complaint hotline went from receiving 62 complaints in the first three years to receiving over 200 in the last 22 months — an increase he claims is a sign that workers are becoming more aware of their legal rights.
Author: Nadra Nittle, Racked (USA)
13 April 2018
In 2018, Bangladeshi garment workers and their advocates have made inroads. A report released Tuesday by Mark Anner, director of the Center for Global Workers’ Rights at Penn State, says the accord has made more than 2.5 million laborers safer. On the same day, corporate and labor leaders met at the Ford Foundation in New York to review the predicament of Bangladesh’s garment workers today... Although working conditions have improved, wages are stagnant and overtime is the norm, due to fast fashion’s tight production deadlines. Now the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), which helped coordinate the Ford event, is urging apparel companies to show a deeper commitment to protecting workers’ rights. As a result of the accord, 97,000 of 132,000 hazards at factories in Bangladesh have been eliminated, Anner found. An additional 12,000 hazards have reportedly been addressed. They just await review by the accord’s independent group of inspectors... From 2014 to 2018, the number of factories in multipurpose buildings has dropped by 49 percent, from 155 factories to 79 factories... One reason the workers have seen improvements is that they’ve organized into unions... Unions can also train members to identify workplace hazards and report them... The minimum wage increased from $38 to $68 monthly, but it hasn’t risen in tandem with inflation. A 2016 report from the Global Living Wage Coalition suggested that the living wage in the country should be anywhere from $177 to $214 depending on the region.
[T]he accord is set to sunset next month. Last year, however, most of the companies that signed it decided to expand the agreement and its scope to May 2021. About 55 percent of the current accord members have agreed to do so, but some companies have yet to make the commitment. Abercrombie & Fitch is one of them, Foxvog says.
Author: Paul M. Barrett, Dorothée Baumann-Pauly and April Gu, NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights
[N]early 250 global brands and retailers have joined either the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and its union partners or the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Through these collective initiatives, the companies have inspected some 2,800 factories and encouraged a series of remedial steps to address unsafe circumstances in those factories. They are not, however, panaceas. Today they cover only about 2,300 active factories serving their member companies. The Bangladeshi government separately retains oversight for another 1,650 or so. But this still leaves out a very large number of additional factories—and their workers... The Accord has announced it will continue provisionally for up to three additional years, through 2021. Once the foreign-run programs pull out, the Bangladeshi government will inherit responsibility for all factories and workers... [W]e propose... that an array of international actors, which involves global brands and retailers, governments from Western Europe and North America, international financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, civil society organizations, labor representatives, and philanthropic groups,... joins with Bangladeshi stakeholders to form a “shared responsibility” task force whose members would contribute needed funds to ensure the repair of all garment factories in the country.
The Center for Business and Human Rights has identified two broad gaps in factory safety where significant resources still need to be applied. First, there are unsafe conditions in factories that are not covered by the Accord or Alliance but instead are overseen by the government of Bangladesh under its National Initiative. Second, unsafe circumstances exist in many of the subcontracting factories that are not covered by the Accord, Alliance, or National Initiative.
Author: Daniel Rodrigues, New York Times
Factory workers in Bangladesh toil for low wages and under precarious conditions to make clothing worn worldwide
… We visited Savar last year to see what had changed and what hadn’t in the years since the Rana Plaza disaster. We learned that the house of (survivor) Muhammad Moinuddin and his wife, Rakeya, was flooded with toxic water.
Bangladesh, which is the largest exporter of clothing after China, is able to save on manufacturers’ costs by paying one of the lowest minimum wagesin the world and by often turning a blind eye to the laws, agreements and standards that would protect workers and the environment but raise prices.
A complex set of laws and regulations, often flouted, allows different types of factories to operate according to different standards.
The problems are exacerbated by Bangladesh’s poverty, which drives millions of children away from school and into the labor force. They often lie to get around the legal employment age…
Author: Jake Hall, Vogue
...Five years on, Rana Plaza remains the sole catalyst for a global discussion of the fashion industry’s impact. Looking back, Blanchard describes it as a “shock to the system – seeing the reality of brands, whom we thought we could trust, neglecting their responsibility to ensure the fair, humane treatment of garment workers was outrageous.” Despite the obvious truth of this statement, other factory fires and violent protests have since caused carnage of their own. We may have increased understanding and transparency, most of which is courtesy of Fashion Revolution, but the issues still remain; it shouldn’t take the loss of a thousand more lives for us to collectively work to resolve them in earnest...
Author: Fashion Revolution
A review of 150 of the biggest global fashion brands and retailers ranked according to how much they disclose about their social and environmental policies, practices and impact...Ten brands and retailers lead the path towards greater transparency amongst the major corporate players Adidas and Reebok top the Index again this year scoring 58% or 144.5 out of 250 possible points followed by Puma, H&M, Esprit, Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, C&A and Marks & Spencer in the 51-60% range. ASOS is shortly behind at 50%, having increased their level of disclosure by 18% since last year. The mean average score amongst all 150 brands and retailers is 52 (21%) out of 250 possible points...Too many big brands and retailers continue to lack transparency 12 brands and retailers (8%) have scored 0% in 2018, compared to three (3%) in the 2017 report.
Five years on, Clean Clothes Campaign commemorates Rana Plaza workers and calls for a recommitment for meaningful change in the garment industry
Author: Clean Clothes Campaign
This day has become a harrowing symbol of workplace deaths in the garment industry in general....Clean Clothes Campaign urges the government of Bangladesh, with the support of the ILO and brands sourcing from Bangladesh, to fulfill the pledge for meaningful change that followed the Rana Plaza disaster by taking immediate action to establish a national employment injury insurance system according to international standards in Bangladesh. While delivering such a scheme under national legislation will take time, in the immediate interim the Bangladesh government must implement a bridging solution to cover those affected by factory incidents, which have occurred in the last five years since the Rana Plaza disaster....Most importantly, new factory tragedies need to be prevented. We would like to reiterate that there is only one credible way for garment brands to ensure that the workers in their supply chain can work in safe factories: by signing the 2018 Transition Accord. Clean Clothes Campaign urges all apparel and home textile companies sourcing from Bangladesh to join the ranks of the Accord and to leave behind non-binding alternatives without worker participation. We call upon those brands that already signed the 2018 Accord, to extend its protection to more workers in their supply chain, by adding their factories for home textile and knit and fabric accessories to the monitoring activities of the Accord.
Five years after the collapse of Rana Plaza, investors take stock of progress made to safeguard garment workers
Author: Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
24 April 2018
...Led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Bangladesh Investor initiative, an investor coalition comprising 250 institutional investors representing over $4.5 trillion in assets under management, was formed in May of 2013 to urge a strong corporate response to Rana Plaza including participation in the Accord. Further, in their engagements with companies the investors made four main recommendations:
- Join the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety (Accord) signed by trade unions, brands and retailers with NGOs as witness signatories;
- Commit to strengthening local trade unions and ensuring a living wage for all workers including through their engagement with the Bangladesh government;
- Publicly disclose all their suppliers including those from Bangladesh;
- Ensure that appropriate grievance mechanisms and effective remedies, including compensation, are in place for affected workers and families.
The investors argue that supply chain transparency is critical to safeguarding worker safety and employer responsibility since visibility into extended supply chains, including sub-contractors, is a precondition to identifying risks, including safety, forced labor, harassment, discrimination and denial of freedom of association...
The investor statement is available here: http://iccr.org/sites/default/files/resources_attachments/2018_5th_anniv...
Author: Aruna Kashyap, Human Rights Watch
25 April 2018
...Within five years of the building collapse, one of two large private fire and building safety initiatives in Bangladesh—the Alliance on Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance), a safety effort mostly led by North American brands—announced that it is preparing to wrap up and hand over operations to an “independent, credible, locally-led organization,” developed in partnership with the Bangladesh government and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
The other private initiative—the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (Accord), led mostly by European brands has extended its work till 2021, saying its operations would continue “beyond May 2018 as all parties recognize, substantial additional capacity-building is necessary before responsibility to protect workers in factories producing for Accord signatory brands can be responsibly handed over to a national regulatory body.” The extended Accord includes small yet concrete improvements that give protections for workers’ freedom of association more teeth.
These two initiatives, both led by reputed brands, came to very different conclusions about what has changed in the past five years, which raises the question—why?
Could it be that having workers centrally involved in designing and contributing to the administration of an initiative offers a worker perspective that can better inform decisions about whether to “transition” or stay? To be clear—workers are not just “any” stakeholder in such decisions. They stand on a different footing from other “stakeholders” because they risk paying with their lives and limb...
Five years after Rana Plaza, Bangladeshi garment workers are fighting for justice and dignity at work
Author: Marienna Pope-Weidemann, Red Pepper (UK)
24 April 2018
In January, unions representing Bangladeshi garment workers reached a $2.3m settlement with an anonymised multinational fashion brand over delays to fixing safety hazards in its factories. Five years after the Accord was introduced, it has shown its worth and the union has proven it’s possible to translate the Accord into action that saves lives. Still, it took a two year fight for them to win that settlement. This also reflects an important truth: agreements will never be enough, without the workers’ right to organise and fight with them to defend their lives and livelihoods... With fashion brands making billions in profit every year, the idea that respect for basic labour and human rights should be optional is a disgrace. The Accord was an important step away from that and January’s settlement shows that it can be used to make companies pay for endangering their workers’ lives. But when it comes to putting people before profit, whether in health and safety or in a fair day’s pay, they will always strive to protect their bottom line.