Today marks 8 years since the Rana Plaza deaths. Do workers have better rights now?

Today marks 8 years since the Rana Plaza deaths. Do workers have better rights now?
Khaleda was working in the Rana Plaza building when it collapsed on 24 April 2013. Photo: Narayan Debnath/DFID. CC BY 2.0

It is now eight years since 1,134 mostly women workers were killed in the deadliest disaster in the history of the clothing industry, when the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed. 

Khaleda, one of the survivors, described it like this: “There were 10 to 12 of us trapped under the rubble, we thought that we were going to die. We were saying goodbye to each other. I was rescued from the collapse after being buried for 16 hours.” 

As horrifying footage emerged of bodies being pulled from the wreckage, outrage grew around the world when it became clear the garment factories had been well aware of the dangers – the day before, the shops and bank on other floors of the building were closed as soon as structural issues were discovered. But garment workers were forced to continue working or face losing their wages. 

In the aftermath, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety was created as a binding safety programme, out of the realisation that the voluntary programmes of the past had failed to prevent this tragedy. It was signed by over 200 brands, covering over 1600 factories. 

This agreement is set to run out on May 31. None of the brands or retailers that are currently a member of the Accord have yet signed a new, similar agreement with a labour union that would be legally enforceable. 

This is important because in over 1,200 factories supplying Accord brands, verification of a properly installed fire alarm is still pending. In over 900 factories there are no guaranteed safe exit routes in case of an incident. 

We’ve seen the consequences of this, not just with Rana Plaza in 2013, but also in Gujarat last year, this year in Cairo and in Tangier, and the list goes on. Refusal to ensure the safety of garment workers is nothing short of homicide, and some of our best-loved high street brands that produce clothes in these factories are directly responsible. 

The Clean Clothes Campaign and unions in Bangladesh have launched, to allow those in Bangladesh affected by the disaster, as well as people internationally, to commemorate the tragic anniversary. 

The website also allows people to write a message to the brands that produce their clothes in Bangladesh and are on the verge of turning their backs on the programme that has successfully made factories safer for two million workers in the past eight years. The Clean Clothes Campaign are passing on people’s messages to brands including Benetton, C&A, Carrefour, H&M, Zara, Pull & Bear, Lidl, and Primark. 

So far only ASOS has responded positively to calls to sign a successor to the Accord. Unfortunately it might take shaming the big brands to get them to act – at least let’s hope that’s all it takes before there are any more preventable deaths on their watch. 

Featured image: Photo: by Narayan Debnath/DFID. CC BY 2.0

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