By Lauren Martin.
On 24th April 2013 in the Savar Upazila of Dhaka District, Bangladesh, the eight storey Rana Plaza building collapsed, killing 1138 people. It has become a painful symbol of the grave tragedy encountered by garment workers that was entirely preventable.
The day before the devastating collapse large structural cracks were discovered in the Rana Plaza building; the shops and banks below the garment factory immediately closed. However, despite advice to close the factory, workers were told it was safe to work. Only hours after workers arrived, the entire building collapsed.
So, whose fault was it?
Media reports suggest that workers at Rana Plaza saw the cracks in the building the day before the collapse but no precautionary steps were taken. The building owner, Sohel Rana, allegedly told local reporters that the cracks were “nothing serious” and most horrifically, workers were forced to work and threatened with a month’s salary cut if they did not comply. When these facts began to emerge, it became easy to place all the blame on the managers who neglected the welfare of the workers. Of course, they are responsible, but there was definitely more at play here.
Emdadul Islam of the state-run Capital Development Authority told media that the owner of the building had not received the proper building consent; he had only obtained a permit for a five-story building. The building was, however, illegally extended by a further three stories to a total of eight. All eight stories collapsed.
In recent years, as a result of globalisation, the ready-made garment industry has rapidly increased in Bangladesh. This has meant that there is a much higher demand for large factories that can produce more product. As a result of this demand, owners have illegally expanded their factories, as was the case in Rana Plaza. Various authorities seem to neglect their duty to monitor and inspect illegal buildings, allowing such tragic events to take place.
Rana Plaza was a high-profile disaster, so what has changed?
In short, not much.
There have been few changes since the tragedy, but it is worth noting the progress that has been made. The collapse prompted safety checks that led to many factory closures and global brands such as H&M, Gap and Walmart have contributed $21.5million to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, which was set up to help victims and their families. 38 people have been charged with murder.
Despite this, much remains the same. The Bangladesh government has failed to crack down on illegal buildings, and global brands still use sweatshops elsewhere in the world. In 2016, it was discovered that H&M, despite donating to victims of Rana Plaza, used clothing factories in Myanmar where children as young as 14 worked for 12 hours a day.
It appears as if the garment industry continues to go unregulated.
What can we do to prevent more tragedies?
The Clean Clothes Campaign aims to improve working conditions in the garment industry. One of their focuses since Rana Plaza has been the need for supply chain transparency; without this workers’ rights are hampered and Rana Plaza may just be the first of many more disasters.
You can help support the Clean Clothes Campaign here: https://cleanclothes.org/action/get-involved
Lauren is a student in her last year of A-Levels studying Sociology, Government and Politics and English Literature. She hopes to continue her studies at the University of Sheffield where she will study Politics and International Relations. With a keen interest in social justice and global politics, Lauren hopes to raise awareness of global issues.