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Social Issues
A Year After The Rana Plaza Disaster In Bangladesh, What Has Changed?
April 24, 2014
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A survivor of the Rana Plaza collapse at home in Savar, Bangladesh a year after the disaster. (REUTERS/Andrew Biraj)

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. On April 24, 2013, an eight-storey building in the Savar district of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring about 2,500 more. 

The building housed factories that manufactured clothing for many Western companies, including Benetton, The Children's Place, Walmart, Primark and Joe Fresh, which is owned by Canadian grocery giant Loblaw. 

The collapse brought to light the appalling conditions under which millions of garment workers in the developing world work — including exceptionally low pay, unsafe environments and worker abuse — and sparked a conversation about corporate social responsibility with regard to the Western companies that contract out to those factories. 

In the wake of the disaster, many companies pledged to change the working conditions in Bangladesh and elsewhere, and to send money in support of survivors and families of the victims. Last May, one month after the collapse, Loblaw signed on to a 5-year agreement, (knowns as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety), which would see the company paying up to $500,000 each year to improve factory conditions in Bangladesh. 

A year later, questions remain about just how much Western companies are doing to change the garment industry for the better. 

The international unions IndustriALL and UNI and the labour rights NGO Clean Clothes Campaign released a statement two weeks ago calling on the clothing companies who sourced their garments from Rana Plaza to commit to paying into the $40-million US Donor Trust Fund, which was set up two months ago to compensate the families of victims and survivors.

The fund was established as part of the Rana Plaza Arrangement, an agreement between the Bangladeshi government, trade unions, NGOs and clothing brands. The Arrangement set a target of $40 million US for the fund, but did not specify how much each company should be compelled to pay.

"Unfortunately the whole process for getting both emergency assistance, and more importantly, long-term compensation for the victims has been painfully slow," Bob Jeffcott, Policy Analyst at Maquila Solidarity Network, told Strombo.com.

So far, about half of the companies that sourced from factories in the building have made a commitment to the fund, and only one third have actually contributed.

Some Further Reading

There are lots of in-depth stories about the disaster and about the garment industry as a whole. Here are some pieces to check out:

- If you're interested in reading more about the state of the garment industry in Bangladesh and around the world, we recommend this piece by Lucy Siegle in The Guardian, as well as this piece by Nathalie Atkinson in the National Post. 

- For a closer look at what things are like in Bangladesh right now, the Wall Street Journal has an excellent piece about living as a survivor of the Rana Plaza collapse.

- If you're wondering about the broader picture of the global garment trade, we recommend the comprehensive, interactive feature "Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt" on NPR, to get a good sense of just what goes on in the production of the clothes you wear every day.

In the video below, you'll find a short Reuters documentary about what it's like to be a garment worker in Bangladesh:

And in the gallery above, you'll find pictures from a Reuters series documenting the lives of Rana Plaza survivors a year later. 

If you're in Toronto today, there's a rally organized by Workers United Canada and the Maquila Solidarity Network, taking place from 12 to 1:30 p.m. at King St. W. and York St..   

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