Disaster struck five years ago when a structural failure caused the five-story Rana Plaza to collapse, killing 1,134 factory workers. To this day, the incident is considered the deadliest accident to have occurred in a garment factory. If the building owners hadn’t ignored urgent warnings to vacate after cracks were noticed, this might have been avoided. If the garment workers had not been sent to work in unsafe conditions, the loss of lives could have been avoided. There a lot of “what-ifs” that loom around Rana Plaza.
Rana Plaza Tragedy Not in Vain
It would be expected that a mishap of such magnitude would have consequences. And, set the grounds for swift changes to be made in regard to working conditions across the industry. Suppositions aside, however, what has changed? Arun Devnath, head of English News with Bangladesh’s News 24, was quoted by Fashionista.com saying, “There’s a big shift in public perception. Factory safety is no longer a ‘Western luxury.’”
Mark Anner, Labor and Employment Relations Center Director, Center for Global Workers’ Rights, built on Devnath’s claim, stating that sixty safety violations have been corrected per factory, on average. Some of the issues that have been addressed include structural problems and the removal of electrical hazards as well as the addition of proper fire escapes. Deliberate actions have also been taken to reduce the use of multipurpose buildings (Rana Plaza was one such building) since they are not designed to support heavy garment factory equipment. This has led to around 49 percent reduction in the use of multipurpose buildings by manufacturers.
An International Labor Rights Forum press releaserevealed that in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a five year legally binding agreement, was signed by over 200 major brands and unions to ensure a healthier and safer clothing industry in Bangladesh. The feature claims that the agreement has managed to make buildings “safer for 2.5 million garment workers across 1,600 factories.”
Factory Safety Improves, Worker Rights Do Not
While impressive improvements have been achieved, there’s still progress to be made. That’s because away from building safety, problems still linger elsewhere. The treatment being meted to garment factory workers in Bangladesh leaves a lot to be desired. Steven Greenhouse, a former labor reporter with The New York Times, said that the government of Bangladesh still colludes with manufacturers to prevent the establishment of labor unions in the country. In his words, “…the Bangladesh government often blocks the formation of unions, because Bangladeshi manufacturers want the government to block unions. Union leaders have been arrested.”
Nazma Akter, a Bangladeshi trade unionist, confirmed Greenhouse’s claim when a Telegraph.co.uk article quoted her as saying, “…women, are often subjected to harassment and abuse, especially if they try to organize unions.” This shows that human rights issues persist to this day despite the efforts being made by campaigners.
Also, there’s still a problem of accountability. In fact, Jack Torrance, writer, and The Telegraph employee see this as one of the leading issues that are still confronting the fashion industry. “One of the big issues has been a lack of transparency. Without knowing which firms are manufacturing where, what their policies are and how they are being enforced, it is hard to keep tabs on what they are doing and hold them to account,” he said in an article featured on the site.
There’s no denying that the response to the Rana Plaza incident has been impressive on most fronts. Concerted efforts have been made by industry leaders and unions to ensure that the calamity never repeats itself. Worker safety has since taken the front seat, as the garment sector continues to explore ways to make working conditions safer for all involved. There are still many issues that need to be ironed out. Overall, it is evident that the apparel industry has made a significant leap forwards since 2013.