Ten years ago, one of the deadliest industrial accidents in history took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh. On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza garment factories collapsed killing 1138 people and injuring more than 2500 others. Most of those killed and injured were women. Just five months earlier, 112 workers were killed when they were trapped inside the burning Tazreen Fashions factory on the outskirts of Dhaka.
These two disasters served as a wakeup call for the world. Despite unions in Bangladesh calling for improved safety measures for many years, the dangerous working conditions in the garment sector in Bangladesh were exposed. Rana Plaza produced garments for major fashion brands and people around the world were forced to think about how our clothes are made and who makes them.
Profits over people
Rana Plaza is a clear example of the widespread issue of the influence corporations wield over governments. The factories were built on unsuitable land with substandard construction material. Inspectors were paid bribes to look the other way. Ten years on and the debate surrounding corporate power and the relationship between private business and government continues.
On the eighth anniversary of the disaster, Michele O’Neil, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said “Rana Plaza was not an accident but the result of some of the most powerful corporations in the world always looking for the cheapest place on earth to make clothes and putting profit above workers lives and safety.”
Workers pay the ultimate price for fashion
Before the five garment factories that made up Rana Plaza collapsed, workers held significant concerns. They did not want to enter the building as they had noticed cracks in the walls the day before the collapse and workers had been sent home. Regardless, managers ordered the garment workers back the next day to fulfill a large volume of orders. They were told delays would be costly. The they paid the ultimate cost for returning to work. They paid with their lives.
Safety flaws continue
In 2013, the International Accord on Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry was first signed. As of April 2023, 195 brands have signed on in Bangladesh and the new agreement has now expanded to Pakistan. Yet there are many brands, mostly from the United States, who have not joined. Complicating matters is the existence of private initiatives which are being used by clothing brands. These initiatives confuse and mislead consumers, investors and regulators who may assume safeguards within the initiative to be similar or equivalent to the Accord.
On private providers, Aruna Kashyap, associate corporate accountability director at Human Rights Watch says “they should be clear that they don’t provide access to legally enforceable remedies for workers like the Accord does.”
Ten years on, the lessons from the Rana Plaza collapse are clear. So long as corporations continue to wield disproportionate influence and power over governments, another Rana Plaza could happen again.
Check out the Ethical Fashion Guide to see which brands are working to protect workers and the environment: https://baptistworldaid.org.au/resources/ethical-fashion-guide/
Around the Globe brings you international news about injustices and workers’ rights. If injustice exists anywhere, it exists everywhere.