Did The Fashion Industry Do Enough For The Bangladesh Factory Collapse Survivors?

Fatimah Mazhar
It's been a year since the Rana Plaza disaster, but our efforts are just not enough.

bangladesh building collapse

It’s been a year since the tragic collapse of the eight-story commercial building “Rana Plaza” in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

It’s hard to believe that today marks the first anniversary of the catastrophe that took place on April 24, 2013, killing around 1,129 people and injuring more than 2000.

It may well be the worst garment-factory disaster in history, as well as one of the deadliest accidental structural failures in modern times.

The already-underprivileged families of the victims and survivors were promised US$40 million to compensate the loss of income and cover medical expenses.

The international companies, including Primark and Benetton, that were found to be associated with the factories in Rana Plaza were also encouraged to donate money to the financial trust funds set up for the affected parties.

Following the horrendous collapse, the prevalent labor malpractice in Bangladesh came under worldwide scrutiny. Questions were raised as to whether the country’s government and western retailers would introduce useful reforms for workers in future.

Some brands did commit, however, global advocacy organizations claim that in the last 12 months efforts have been completely haphazard and non-transparent, leaving large groups of victims with almost nothing.

RECOMMENDED: Will Labor Practices in Bangladesh Improve After The Horrendous Factory Collapse?

bangladesh building collapse

We’ll now have a look at how effective the collective effort, local and international, has been so far in addressing the aftermath of last year’s tragedy.

Minimum Wage:

Bangladesh made amendments to its laws to allow garment workers to form trade unions without prior permission from factory owners. In November 2013, the minimum wage was reportedly increased by 77 percent, though workers are pressing the authorities for more.

Fashion Revolution Day:

April 24th has been declared the Fashion Revolution Day, a global movement which arose from the Rana Plaza disaster. Founded by Carry Somers, a pioneer in ethical fashion in the UK, this day aims to celebrate best practice and highlight the critical issues within the fashion industry.

Actors Speaking For Reforms:

cate blanchett ewatson

There has been a global shift in the attitudes towards the ethics of fashion. Thankfully, it has gained much momentum in the West. Celebrities are becoming increasingly informed and playing an important role to spread awareness.

For instance, “Harry Potter” star Emma Watson is an active participant of the ethical fashion movement.

"I've travelled to Bangladesh and visited factories like Rana Plaza," she told Vogue. "I knew how bad the conditions were before the collapse. I think it's important that I'm accountable for the choices I make and understand they have serious consequences."

Another celebrity advocate, Cate Blanchett is of the opinion that garment manufacture demands the same attention as global warming.

Like climate change - we need to change the way we consume fashion. And if more individuals do then we make a change collectively."

READ MORE: Politically Influential Owner Of The Collapsed Building In Bangladesh Gets Arrested

U.S. Military Efforts:

Earlier this February, a damning report was released by the International Labor Rights Forum, an American nonprofit watchdog. It claimed the U.S. military-logo clothes were being manufactured in third-world countries like Bangladesh without taking any independent action to “investigate or remedy safety hazards and illegal conditions.”

Following the revelations, the Obama administration committed to independently audit – currently 5000 – factories in Bangladesh as well provide financial support for improvement in the broken system.

Disappointing Contribution To Funds:

bangladesh building collapse

Efforts by the fashion industry have been lukewarm in introducing positive reforms. The biggest disappointment yet is the negligible sum retailers   donated to the funds set up for the affected families.

This viewpoint has been reiterated by many parties. For instance, the Clean Clothes Campaign which isthe largest alliance of labor unions in the garment industry commented that amongst the 28 brands sourcing material from Rana Plaza, only PRIMARK made a significant contribution (in total approximately US$8 million).

“To date the Donor Trust Fund has received just 1/3 of the funds it needs to be able to ensure all the families of victims and the survivors receive the compensation they require.  Just half the companies who were connected to factories in the building have made contributions,” the group stated, adding nearly all of these brands needed to increase their “insignificant” donations immediately.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlighted an important fact in a report released on Tuesday. According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies have a responsibility “to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations.”

“The UN Global Compact also encourages businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible practices in line with international human rights standards,” HRW concluded.

Although the international garment industry is slowly moving towards ethical labor practices, it is going to take a lot more than an annual “Fashion Day” to compensate the livelihood of people who lost everything on April 24 last year.