Rana Plaza Disaster Reflection
By admin April 26, 2018


On the morning of April 24, 2013, workers in the Rana Plaza area of Dhaka, Bangladesh, were trapped as the rumbling vibration of the building’s generators, turned on after a power cut, brought the building tumbling down. Cracks in the foundation of the building had started to show the day before, but according to CNN coverage of the incident, survivors stated that their bosses insisted they go to work. It was cited as one of the worst factory disasters the world has ever seen. More than 1,100 workers lost their lives, and 2,500+ people were injured. The New York Times stated that the building collapse was a result of a combination of factors including poor building codes and inspections, lack of building safety regulations, and questions regarding the influence of brand-driven global supply chains.


Afterwards, according to Human Rights Watch, major brands that relied on Bangladesh banded together to create an unparalleled safety initiative. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was established to work with the government to inspect factories, set standards for building codes, and implement funding to help fix areas of concern. However, many of America’s largest retailers declined to sign due to some of the Accord’s more stringent provisions, and instead formed a different initiative, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.


Now, more than 2,000 factories, cited by the Accord, that work with global brands have been inspected and many repaired. Some 1,600 of those were covered under the Accord, which eventually counted on 200 members, and paid for a staff of engineers. But at the same time as this safety effort was underway, a malign trend driven by brands, continued.


A study by Mark Anner, director of Penn State University’s Center for Global Workers’ Rights, found ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, that “brands are generally paying less for garments today than they did before the collapse.” Additionally, Anner notes, wages haven’t increased after the government raised the minimum wage by more than 70 percent in the year of the disaster. In 2016, the AFL-CIO recorded that strikes for better wages led to workers being arrested and fired.


The Rana Plaza disaster drew attention to the power of brands—both for harm and for good. The Accord was in many ways a landmark effort as it is legally binding, the sheer number of brands involved, and that labor unions were part of it. Five years on, the physical safety of factory premises covered under the two initiatives is far better than it used to be, according to several studies, including Anner’s. However, the imbalance between the power of the global supply chain and workers safety, still persists. As price pressures continue, brands may look to save from more “negotiable” costs, like wages or how often maintenance crucial to safety is carried out.


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