The sandwich collapse of Rana Plaza garment factory complex in the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh on 24 April 2013, marks its one year anniversary with commemoration and protest for compensation and safer working condition for the workers. The deadliest industrial accident in the history of Bangladesh claimed 1,138 lives and yet more than 2,000 were left seriously injured or disabled.
After one year, people have disappointments since the culprits have not been punished and victims have not been compensated enough. It is claimed but hard to imagine that many people are still missing inside the rubble. Besides initial compensations from the government and few social organizations, legal compensation packages are yet to be made official. International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates some $40 million needed to compensate the families and disabled garment workers. The Bangladesh government together with the ILO have established a relief fund for the same.
Although many would call this accident a wakeup call, some critics would like to differ. These kind of accidents had happened in Bangladesh in the past but probably they were not destructive and loud enough to register as a wakeup call for the government or the concerned authorities. Most importantly, the disaster could have been predicted and prevented if they had adequate safety measures in place.
Better late than never, the Rana Plaza debacle brought about massive movements for similar industries to sign up for the Bangladesh fire and building safety accord. Although government safety inspections are already underway, the initial reports are not looking satisfactory. There are lots of fire and building safety issues which still need to be addressed to comply with the accord. Government should be able to set up strong measures to enforce new regulations and remediation.
Meanwhile, there are evidence of positive change in safety culture as both management and workers are taking safety seriously and raising concerns over building safety and fire safety issues. As the safety culture needs preservation, fostering and encouragement from all the sectors including the Bangladesh government, garment industries, workers on the floor, top foreign retailers as well as the consumers on the other side of the globe, this might be a long journey before any significant change will be noticed on the front of safety culture.
Currently, there are about 30 foreign retail brands which are supplied by more than 5,000 garment factories in Bangladesh. It is sad to see that only half of the retailer brands have come forward to compensate the family and the injured workers. The other half probably want cheap clothes at the expense of safe working condition and wellbeing of the workers in Bangladesh.
This could be a good example of 21st century slavery where labors in developing countries are enslaved by affluent business society. The end consumers need to wake up and see the tragedy of the labor behind the label and boycott those brands which are so indifferent and irresponsible towards their own workers.
On one hand Bangladesh has this immense need to address its existing safety issues such as fire and building safety accord while on the other it has the challenges to restore confidence of the retailers. Although the structural flaws of the buildings and the proactive safety measures will definitely take some time to be implemented, Bangladesh cannot afford to lose its retailers by not meeting these basic safety requirements just now.
The country needs to move fast if it wants to restore the business in this world where business ethics, brand identities and consumer awareness are rapidly becoming the competitive grounds for the growth of any organization. Further delaying and not meeting the safety standards might signal the international market to diversify to other places such as Nepal, Myanmar etc. We hope that the garments made in Bangladesh will present a symbol of standards and not of workers’ exploitation.
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