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One year one: The remains & Legacy of the Bangladesh Rana Plaza

Written by Guest on Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Today marks the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, the collapse of an eight-story commercial building in Bangladesh which  killed 1,129 of the 3,000 plus garment labourers who worked there, and injured 2,500. In marking the anniversary, people all over the world are demanding answers to the question of what has been done one year on from the disaster and the issues raised with regard to corruption, human rights and corporate responsibility.


Today marks the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, the collapse of an eight-story commercial building in Bangladesh which  killed 1,129 of the 3,000 plus garment labourers who worked there, and injured 2,500. In marking the anniversary, people all over the world are demanding answers to the question of what has been done one year on from the disaster and the issues raised with regard to corruption, human rights and corporate responsibility.

An example of this continued popular concern can be seen here in London, where campaigners are forming a human chain on Oxford Street urging retailers to take responsibility and be more transparent about their supply chains.  At Transparency International UK we too encourage British retailers who source their goods from Bangladesh and elsewhere to be prevent corrupt practices in their supply chains and to ensure safe working conditions are provided for those who make their goods.

Iftekhar Zaman, Transparency International, Bangladesh:

One year ago today three thousand garment workers started a typical work day at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. Like many of the country’s 4m garment workers – over 80 per cent of whom are young women – they earned just over one dollar a day for up to 19 hours of work; went without water or toilets; and crucially were not protected by basic workplace safety standards. They walked up one staircase: the only way in and out of the building…,

To read this piece in full, please see the original post on Financial Times blog here.

One year on: The remains & legacy of the Bangladesh Rana Plaza

The debris of Rana Plaza can’t be seen from the highway it is now covered with corrugated metal sheets and barbed wire.

A few posters of a political party are hung on the fence. There is hardly any sign of the disaster that took place a year ago.

A short passage through the fence leads to a totally different scenario: the remains of an eight-storied building now reduced to rubble and junk.

A distinctive stench inside the compound and the wailing of grieving victims’ relatives brings back the memories of the deadliest industrial accident in the history of Bangladesh and the global garment industry.

The rescue operations have been called off long ago, but that couldn’t stop people from gathering at the site in the hope that bodies of their near and dear ones could be recovered. The tragedy of Rana Plaza continues.

A few miles from the site is another factory that produces bags and polo shirts for local market. Oporajeo which means “indomitable” in Bangla, is an initiative which started after the Rana Plaza collapse to create job opportunities for the survivors.

The workers in this factory witnessed to the disaster that took the lives of their coworkers and friends and maimed so many, an experience which they would want to forget but probably it will continue to haunt them rest of their lives.

“You can’t even imagine what they had been through. One of our finest workers Johora who lost her husband while they were coming out of the building is still traumatized often has panic attacks. Like many victims she needs financial support as promised after the incident.” 

Ashiq Zaman one of the organizers of the factory. Ashiq was among many of those volunteers who risked their lives after the building had collapsed to the rescue operations.

A year after Rana Plaza, are workers safer?

Since the Rana Plaza collapse, the government, the garment manufacturer’s association (the BGMEA), factory owners and international companies have all made significant efforts to respond. Progress has been made in areas like workers’ rights, but not in tackling corruption.

But the international companies that buy from factories in Bangladesh– including UK retailers such as Matalan and Store Twenty One –  are yet to fulfill their commitments to help improve the safety standards and ensure labor rights according to a study released by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) on 21 April 2014.

TIB’s Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman commented “Governance challenges in the sector are multi-dimensional while collusive corruption has been pervasive which needed extraordinary efforts and the stakeholders have shown the commitment to face those head on”.

The trend to place orders with non-compliant factories hasn’t fully stopped despite repeated demands. The buyers’ initiative of auditing factories is time consuming and lacks coordination with the relevant government institutes. The pace of factory inspection by buyers and their umbrella groups as well as by the government, is comparatively slow and often lacks transparency. Some buyers were also found not to help ensuring compliance in factories and influencing others not to place orders in those factories.

An earlier TI Bangladesh study in October 2013 found that buyers were more interested in getting a cheaper rate rather than improving working conditions.

The latest report found that although efforts are underway to improve the working conditions overall buyers remain reluctant to accept the required increase in the production costs that would follow efforts to tackle corruption, working conditions and wages.

Bangladesh has remarkable achievements in many sectors. Our successes in reducing child mortality and population growth are considered to be models for other countries. We are the leaders of micro credit and social resources-resources-business. The rate of female enrollment in schools is better than neighboring countries. Our garment products are considered to be best among consumers. Against all the odds, the garment sector recorded unprecedented growth in the fiscal year 2013-14.

Transparency in this instance is necessary but not enough. There is a web connecting collusive corruption, working standards and poor wages. It is time that measures are taken and responsibilities shared by all stakeholders, especially by the global brands, to save this sector. Their responsibility to millions of garment workers will be met not just by signing accords but also by addressing the very question whether it is ethical to do resources-resources-business while effectively colluding in corruption and allowing millions to remain underpaid or to be forced to work in dangerous conditions, living a life way below the standard of the people for whom they produce clothes.

The enduring legacy of Rana Plaza will be that global brands, and their customers, cannot remain indifferent to the fact that if they continue to tolerate corrupt practices in the sector the conditions of Bangladeshi textile workers will remain unchanged.

 

This is a blog by Sajjad Hussein, Senior Programme Manager for Outreach and Communication at Transparency International Bangladesh.

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Read 4398 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47

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The TI-UK blog features thought and opinion from guest writers as well as TI staff. Any opinions expressed by external contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Transparency International UK.

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