Rana Plaza, the collapsed eight-story commercial building located in Dhaka’s outskirt Savar, which housed several shops, a bank and garment factories, is the painful symbol of the grave tragedy encountered by garment workers.
On 23 April 2013 large structural cracks were discovered in the Rana Plaza building. The shops and the bank on the lower floors immediately closed. But warnings to avoid using the building after the cracks appeared were ignored by the garment factory owners on the upper floors.
Garment workers were ordered to return to work the following day. Due to management pressure, on Wednesday 24 April thousands of workers went to work again at their garment factories located in the cracked Rana Plaza building.
Only hours later the entire building collapsed. Including rescue workers, 1138 workers were killed. Nearly 2600 workers were injured, many of them for the rest of their life. Many of the survivors had been trapped under tons of rubble and machinery for hours or even days before they could be rescued, sometimes only by amputating limbs.
This gruesome tragedy has devastated the lives of thousands of workers and of the families of the deceased and injured. Their sufferings are horrific and require immediate and long-term medical care and compensation.
The deceased and injured workers in the Rana Plaza tragedy were producing garments for North American and European high street brands when their factories collapsed.
A number of brands have acknowledged recent production or orders with these factories. Brands that were sourcing from the factories in Rana Plaza building include Benetton (Italy), Bon Marche (UK), Cato Fashions (USA), The Children’s Place (USA), El Corte Ingles (Spain), Joe Fresh (Loblaws, Canada), Kik (Germany), Mango (Spain), Matalan (UK), Primark (UK/Ireland) and Texman (Denmark).
The unprecedented scale of the Rana Plaza and previous tragedies including the fire in the Tazreen factory underlined the need for a coordinated, systematic approach to ensure fire and building safety in the Bangladesh garment industry.
In May 2013 the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was published, and subsequently signed by over 150 companies. Factory inspections have started and the first renovation plans have been published. Also, Rana Plaza victims are to receive compensation under the Rana Plaza Arrangement.
The Arrangement is an unprecedented coordinated approach to ensure all those who have suffered due to the collapse will receive payments to cover loss of income and medical costs.
However, many implicated companies still need to ‘pay up’ to the Arrangement’s Donor Trust Fund. In 2014, CCC and its allies are demanding that brands pay their long overdue contributions. Meanwhile, engaging with trade unions in Bangladesh is the fundamental and first step to ensure safety for the workers in the garment industry.