One year has now passed since Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed killing over 1,100 workers and injuring some 2,500 more. The devastating collapse of the eight-story garment factory located within the urban sprawl of the capital Dhaka occurred on the 24th of April and is one of the worst workplace tragedies in documented history. More alarming still is just how common these events are in Bangladesh and how little has changed in the past year.
The booming Bangladesh garment industry accounts for 45% of all employment and has one of the highest mortality rates of any industry in the world. Since the disaster of April last year 800 people have been injured in scores of largely unreported fires in garment and textile factories. Rana Plaza gained international attention, but what went largely unnoticed and perhaps could have served as a warning for all garment factories was an event five months prior to the April collapse where 114 people died in a fire from a factory which made clothes sold by global retailers such as Walmart, Sears and C&A among others.
Western fashion houses are drawn to Bangladesh for the availability of cheap labour and tax exemptions. This has caused a gold rush in the form of a land grab. Approximately 5,000 garment factories now exist in Bangladesh, most were built or added upon within the last decade and on in-arable swamp land without construction codes. In a country prone to earthquakes and flooding it is no surprise to those in Bangladesh that these incidences occur. The profits for Bangladesh are enormous, more than US$22 billion per year. It creates an environment where the government and corrupt regulatory bodies look the other way or at the least are less inclined to act.
In some convoluted way it makes sense for the government to allow the garment industry to continue unabated. It is largely due to the garment and textiles industry that Bangladesh has been identified by Goldman Sachs as one of the “next eleven”. It is slowly becoming apparent that the onus for change must come from the public. Their government will not act for fear of losing financial progress, all too aware that the appeal for businesses is an unregulated environment where they can operate cheaply with minimal interference.
Pressures from various campaigns have caused some direct changes, such as the pact officially known as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety on Bangladesh. Facing international pressure to take action, numerous retailers have committed to a modified version, including Swedish retailer H&M, the biggest purchaser of garments from Bangladesh. An other is the Rana Plaza Arrangement, a trust fund set up in January for the survivors of the tragedy which has raised about $15 million, $25 million short of the estimated amount needed, according to the fund’s website. The Clean Clothes Campaign is also pursuing the labels for restitution. A member of the committee vocally proclaimed they were "disappointed", and that contributions by the world’s biggest brands have remained “shockingly low.”
We urge you to view the online documentary, "The Shirt on Your Back". It shows that change needs to happen, and how you can make a direct impact.