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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Five years from Rana Plaza, MEP calls on EU Commission to establish binding human rights for European companies
Author: Heidi Hautala, EURACTIV
"Five years from Rana Plaza: EU Commission needs to fulfill its promises", 26 April 2018
It is finally time for the EU to adopt clear rules that require European companies to respect human rights in their global operations and that ensure access to remedy for those affected – to make sure that disasters like this never happen again...
For victims of these abuses obtaining justice is a chain of obstacle...
“Rana Plaza” is not an isolated incident. It is only one piece of the appalling problem that EU needs to resolve with determination and coherence: a responsibility that comes with our role as the second largest economy in the world. Yet, our current response to this challenge is far from satisfactory. The European Commission’s response to the international outcry over “Rana Plaza” was a series of voluntary measures to enhance sustainability in garment value chains. Last year, the Parliament reacted calling for binding due diligence obligations...
[A] coherent framework would help to level the playing field... For the victims of “Rana Plaza”, and for all the countless victims of corporate human rights abuses, empty phrases are worthless. We need action.
Author: Keren Adams, The Sydney Morning Herald
23 April 2018
...Rana Plaza is often described as the garment industry's "worst industrial accident", but the industry practices that led to it were far from accidental.
...A safer fashion industry ultimately requires workers to be able to freely organise and to take complaints up the chain to retailers.... Australian consumers also need to understand where their clothes are made so they can use their purchasing power to encourage ethical sourcing.
Neither of these things can happen, however, if retailers refuse to provide information on where they are sourcing their clothing from.
...Five years on, many Australian retailers still won't reveal the names and locations of their suppliers.
...Australian government will shortly introduce legislation establishing a new supply chain reporting regime...Unfortunately, the government's current proposals fall short of what would be required to make the regime truly effective. As things stand, companies will not be required to undertake additional investigations to better assess the risks of abuse. Nor will they face financial penalties if they fail to report or provide misleading information.
Without these two key ingredients, it is hard to see how the new law will compel companies currently turning a blind eye to abuses to lift their game...
- Related stories: Marking the loss and honouring the memory of those who perished in Rana Plaza
- Related in-depth areas: Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia
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.
Author: Michael Safi, Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
24 April 2018
About 250 companies signed two initiatives, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, and the less constraining Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Both were designed to improve safety dramatically in 2,300 factories supplying western brands. Few dispute that the Accord and Alliance worked... Progress is less obvious for workers in at least 2,000 factories that do not supply major western brands, and are inspected either by the Bangladesh government, or not at all... Facing the threat of being cut off by western buyers, thousands of factory owners have invested in fire doors, sprinkler systems, electrical upgrades and stronger foundations, eliminating more than 97,000 identified safety hazards in facilities covered by the Accord alone... [B]oth initiatives are also way behind schedule, mostly due to sheer stubbornness on the part of factory owners. “Major, life-threatening concerns remain outstanding in too many factories and need to be fixed urgently,” concluded a recent Accord update. Workplaces covered by the Accord and Alliance are also just half the picture. More than 1,500 factories, producing for markets such as Russia and Turkey, receive inspections from the Bangladesh government alone... [F]actory owners complain the brands want it both ways, pressuring factory owners to invest in safety upgrades, but still relentlessly pushing for lower prices. The amount western brands pay for men’s cotton pants, for example, has fallen by an average 13% since Rana Plaza, according to research from Penn State University... Ensuring safe factories stay that way will be the next challenge. Both the Alliance and Accord are trying to work with Bangladesh in some capacity after their terms expire.
Author: Aruna Kashyap, Human Rights Watch
24 April 2018
These two initiatives [Accord and Alliance], 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. Worker participation in such initiatives should not be a box checking exercise. When it comes to initiatives that can save workers from dying, participation within an enforceable framework agreement—as is the case with the Accord—allows worker representatives to negotiate protection until they are satisfied that the outcomes contain meaningful procedures to enhance workplace safety.
Brands pinning their hopes on a “quick transition” should be realistic. The Bangladesh government has created a committee to periodically assess whether the stage for “transitioning” from the Accord has been set. In the interim, joining the Accord offers the best available worker protection program. First, the Bangladesh government has not shown the kind of “measurable progress” that would demonstrate that locally led initiatives developed in partnership with the government are capable of assuring factory safety... After speaking to workers from a handful of factories that were terminated from the Accord for being repeat defaulters, we discovered that most workers continued working in extremely unsafe factories. They did not know where or how to look for another job in a safer factory. Moreover, the Bangladesh government did not appear to be temporarily suspending these factories’ operations—let alone closing them down... Second, a credible complaints process is one of the most important value-added of the private initiatives. The track record of the Bangladesh government when it comes to complaints resolution is especially poor—and brands should be looking more closely at not just numbers but how these complaints are resolved. In the past, the International Labor Organization has repeatedly criticized the Bangladesh authorities’ dismal record of resolving complaints concerning unfair labor practices by factories... Third, while the Accord is a much-needed human rights risk prevention, mitigation, and remediation program for workers, it also affords legal risk mitigation for apparel companies who are sourcing from Bangladesh with its credible inspections, monitoring and complaints mechanism for workers, and transparent reporting of progress.
Author: Cam Wolf, The GQ
24 April 2018
Author: Steven Greenhouse, CNN
25 April 2018
[W]hile safety has improved in Bangladesh, far too many problems remain in that country's -- and the world's -- garment industry. More than 1,000 Bangladeshi apparel factories are not covered by these stepped-up safety measures [such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety] because the brands that use those factories have not signed on to the accord's ambitious effort. Nor, sad to say, does the accord and its rigorous safety measures cover other countries that manufacture clothing for Americans and Europeans -- Cambodia, India, Vietnam, and Pakistan. These countries could certainly use tougher safety measures. In September 2012, a fire tore through the Ali Enterprises apparel factory in Karachi, Pakistan, killing 289 workers. Labor advocates complain that Pakistani authorities have done far too little to inspect factories, pointing to numerous recent fires, as well as a four-story factory that collapsed in Lahore in November 2015, killing 20 workers... According to a new report by Mark Anner, director of the Penn State Center for Global Workers' Rights, the accord's inspectors found more than 131,000 violations, from unsafe electrical fixtures to a lack of fire doors, and 97,000 have been corrected. In 2013, 97% of accord factories lacked safe exits because of lockable or collapsible gates; now 96% of them have corrected that problem... In Bangladesh's clothing industry, there are problems beyond safety. After-inflation wages have dropped by 6.5% since the country's minimum wage was last increased in 2013... Bangladesh's government and companies often don't look kindly on workers' freedom of association. In December 2016, when thousands of workers protested for higher pay, Bangladesh authorities arrested 14 labor activists, and factories suspended or fired 1,500 workers... Tragically, it's only after the huge disasters like the Triangle fire and Rana Plaza that companies get serious about safety. It too often seems that workers have more influence from the grave than when they're alive.
Author: Dana Thomas, The New York Times
24 April 2018
Improvements don’t mean sweatshops no longer exist in Bangladesh. This reporter visited one in Dhaka, three days before the Rana Plaza anniversary. Fire buckets were filled with trash, emergency water bins were cracked and half empty, no one wore safety masks, most workers — some in their early teens — were barefoot, wiring was exposed, bolts of fabric and scraps littered the floors, window panes were broken, and the lone stairwell out of the tenement-like building was obstructed by cartons of finished product destined for Russia. And both the Accord and the Alliance are about to expire. The Accord is set to be renewed for three more years; the Alliance will be dissolved. Advocates are urging former Alliance members to sign on to the new, if brief, Accord. After the extension expires, monitoring is expected to be handed over to the Remediation Coordination Cell, a national initiative that will monitor compliance in garment factories. Advocates as well as U.S. and E.U. diplomatic representatives in Bangladesh are not sure this is a good idea, given that at least 10 percent of the country’s parliament members own factories...
Locals were not surprised when Rana Plaza went down. The day before the accident, the wall on the third floor split open like a fault line; workers fled en masse into the street. An engineer called to inspect the damage recommended the building be immediately condemned. “The crack was so huge I could put my hand in it,” said Ms. Begum, the single mother, who was then a sewing machine operator for Ither Tex Ltd., the fifth-floor tenant. Managers heeded the engineer’s suggestion somewhat: they sent everyone home but ordered them to return in the morning. And they did, hesitantly. [The workers] came back because they feared if they didn’t, they would not be paid at the end of the month. Mr. Hridoy [a 32-year-old survivor of the Rana Plaza factory collapse] was the only one of the three who was compensated by the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, a $30 million endowment underwritten by brands. He used the $600 he got to open his drugstore, and he also founded the Savar Rana Plaza Survivors Association. It currently has 300 members. He does not, however, hold out hope that anything has really changed. “The labor law in this country is pro-owner, not pro-worker,” he said. When oversight reverts to local governance, he said, “all will return to how it was when Rana Plaza happened.”
Already, there has been union repression, with the jailing of labor leaders, which, Mr. Nova [executive director of the Washington-based Worker Rights Consortium] said, “has had a chilling effect on the industry,” and wage negotiations later this year are expected to be fraught and will no doubt trigger worker protests and unrest. At issue particularly is that minimum wage, “which by our estimates is one-fifth a conservative living wage,” Mr. Nova said. Worker unions will demand an increase to about $175 a month. Few outside the industry believe they will succeed.
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...