Today is the anniversary of the collapse of Rana Plaza and the death of 1,138 garment workers in Savar, Bangladesh.
One year later the deadliest disaster in garment factory history has become a tale of tremendous injustice as the companies refuse to compensate the families properly. It’s time these global brands worth trillions pay up.
In total, more than 3,500 workers were trapped for days underneath the rubble of the Rana Plaza eight-storey building that housed five garment factories. Of the 2,500 who survived, many had their limbs crushed and many had to have their arms and legs amputated to be freed. Some 800 children were orphaned as a result of this disaster. In this tragic moment the true cost of our $10
garment became horribly visible.
At the heart of this story are workers, poor women and men, who were denied their right to safe employment as promised in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The garment workers were forced to enter a building they knew was unsafe.The factory bosses facing shipment deadlines threatened these workers with a huge loss of pay they simply could not afford.
As the news cameras filmed the rescue workers doing their utmost to save lives and retrieve the bodies, we were told by the authorities that the workers and their families would be fairly compensated. We were told that changes would be made to fire and safety regulations.
To this end, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was signed by global and Bangladeshi unions and apparel brands and retailers sourcing from Bangladesh. This legally binding agreement agreed supplier factories covered by the accord would be subject to independent safety inspections and training programs.
Since the accord was signed approximately 45 factories a week are visited and inspected. So far 280 have been inspected for fire and electrical problems while 240 factories have been examined for structural issues.
What has happened to the promise of compensation? Under the guidance of the United Nations, a donor trust fund was established for the Rana Plaza victims. Administered by the International Labour Organization, it was estimated that US$40 million would be needed to support the families who lost their main income earners and to assist those who lost the ability to work with medical and living expenses.
Yet here we are one year on and so far only $15 million has been donated to the trust fund. Of the 28 brands linked to the Rana Plaza disaster, about half have paid into the fund. Some, like Italian giant Benetton, have given nothing while the U.K. retailers Primark have donated
$9 million. Canada’s Joe Fresh has provided $2 million with a promise of another million.
We need to make sure all the brands pay an adequate share, including Wal-Mart and Children’s Place, who have both given an insignificant amount. For the Rana Plaza victims, this is a matter of urgency and of survival.
On April 28, Newfoundland unions will gather for the Day of Mourning to recognize those workers who died as a result of a workplace injury or occupational disease. Over 1,000 Canadian workers die every year. Let Rana Plaza be a wakeup call for all of us. It is important we don’t become too complacent and assume that that we can’t improve our own health and safety legislation. It is apparent that even in Canada our laws need to be better monitored and enforced. And let us support the right of all workers, from Rana Plaza to Labrador City, to safe and secure employment.
Mary Shortall, president
NL Federation of Labour
Marilyn Porter, co-chair
NL Social Justice Co-operative