Rana Plaza three years on: the struggle for justice and safety is not over
On 24 April 2013 the Rana Plaza building, which housed 5 garment factories producing for European and North American brands, collapsed killing 1,134 people and leaving thousands more injured. Over the past three years the Clean Clothes Campaign has fought side by side with the survivors and the families of those killed to demand and win compensation for their losses. We have also worked with our colleagues in the trade union movement to push for the signing of the Bangladesh Accord; a legally-binding agreement to ensure Bangladesh garment factories are inspected and made safe. Since then have we have worked with all the signatories and staff of the Accord to ensure its implementation. Lastly, we have supported our trade union partners in Bangladesh, and their members, who face sometimes brutal retaliation and harassment simply for exercising their right to organise and negotiate for better work.
The report: Rana Plaza Three Years On: Compensation, Justice and Workers' Safety (summary) provides an overview of the progress made in these areas and the considerable work still to be done before we can call Bangladesh garment industry a safe place to work.
The report details the near completion of the Rana Plaza Arrangement, which has directly provided USD 18.5 million to the families of 868 families of deceased and missing workers and to 2027 injured survivors. A further USD 1.5 million has been spent on, or earmarked for, schemes to provide medical care. Besides that, 257 claims for deceased and missing workers and 405 for injured workers and survivors were paid through a scheme established by Primark specifically for workers at the New Wave Bottoms factory. Payments to these workers totalled USD 12.4 million.
The Rana Plaza families and their supporters continue to campaign to be compensated for their pain and suffering, which was excluded from the Arrangement, and for those responsible for the deaths of their loved ones to be held to account. Numerous legal cases have been filed, but progress is slow. The Clean Clothes Campaign remains committed to supporting these families in their fight for full justice and urges the Bangladesh courts, the Bangladesh government and the international community to do all they can to ensure a swift conclusion to these cases.
The work of the Accord inspection team has been impressive. In total 1,589 factories have undergone initial inspections, with engineers identifying a total of 108,538 hazards. Every single factory was designated as “high risk” by the Chief Inspector. However, despite the scale and urgency of the work required to fix these safety defects, there appears to have been a very limited effort on behalf of the factories and the brands they supply to actually ensure that renovations have been carried out. Almost all of the factories are designated as behind schedule on repairs; meaning they have missed at least one mandated deadline. Only 7 factories have repaired all the hazards identified in the original inspections. Labour rights groups have pointed out that even such vital, potentially life-saving, repairs as ensuring adequate fire exits have still not been carried out in an alarming number of cases. The Clean Clothes Campaign is calling upon all Accord signatories to address these delays as a matter of urgency and to ensure enough funds are available to carry out the repairs needed.
Lastly, the Clean Clothes Campaign is particularly frustrated by the lack of progress to ensure fundamental rights are respected. Freedom of Association is essential to enable workers to stand up for and monitor the safety of their own working environment. Despite promises made by the government of Bangladesh to reform the labour law to bring it in line with international standards it has failed to do so. The announcement of the new rules to implement the labour law was delayed by over two years and reports of union repression are on the rise. The most lauded improvement – the dramatic increase in the registration of factory-based unions in the year following the collapse – is currently being eroded, with a third of these unions forced out of existence through union busting or closures. A culture of impunity remains, allowing factory owners to threaten and intimidate workers without consequence, and in some cases with the complicity of the police. Symptomatic of this is the failure of the authorities to fully investigate the murder of union leader Aminul Islam, killed over four years ago, whose murderers remain at large.
The report highlights that while much has been achieved in the last three years, much more needs to be done. The Clean Clothes Campaign calls for the momentum for change inspired by the Rana Plaza disaster to be maintained and increased until Bangladesh factories, and their workers, are finally safe.