In runup to second anniversary of factory disaster, victims and trade unions say there is still $8m shortfall in $30m fund
The second anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, in which more than 1,100 people died, is to be marked by demonstrations organised by survivors and trade union groups.
Rallies and tributes will take place on Friday 24 April, at the site where the clothing factory – which supplied garments to western retailers including Primark, Benetton and Matalan – once stood, as well as in the centre of Dhaka.
“We will organise a human chain in front of the national press club, then we will place flowers at the Rana Plaza site and at the graveyard,” said Kamrul Anam of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council. “Two years have gone and the victims and their families have not got their compensation, so they are anxious the brands and buyers pay their contribution. That’s why all the union groups are seriously annoyed,” said Anam.
There is still an $8m (£5m) shortfall in the agreed $30m fund set up for compensation. Last Friday Benetton became the last of 29 western brands who produced clothes at Rana Plaza to donate to the fund.
The Italian fashion retailer gave $1.1m in response to pressure from an online petition of more than a million people. Benetton says this is twice the amount suggested by the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers. It has also set up its own rehabilitation programme for victims, but campaigners say this is not enough.
“Families are seriously suffering because they have no earning source. Minors and babies need money for schooling and they are not able to join and earn money,” said Anam.
Taherul Islam, of the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE), said there have been some improvements in working conditions since the disaster, including the legally binding agreement of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety by brands and trade unions. “The Accord Alliance is trying to find local shortcomings in the buildings, for fire safety. But many issues related to health and safety remain,” he said, urging western companies that use suppliers from Bangladesh to press for better conditions.
Support programmes have been set up by national and some international NGOs to provide survivors with vocational training and give their children educational support, but disorganisation between various initiatives is a cause of confusion and frustration among some workers, said Islam.
Twenty victims have been invited to a face-to-face consultation with stakeholders at a meeting on Wednesday organised by OSHE to try to clarify the status of compensation and rehabilitation for survivors.
A temporary hammer-and-sickle statue has been erected on the disaster site, but Islam dismissed this as the work of far-left groups and said he hoped a different, permanent monument could soon be built.
The clothing industry in Bangladesh is second only to China’s in size and ready-made garments account for 78% of the country’s exports. Around four million people are employed in the industry in around 3,500 factories.
Fashion Revolution, a global campaign demanding more transparency in the fashion industry, is encouraging consumers to ask retailers where their clothes are made and is organising protest events in 68 countries on 24 April. Planned events in Bangladesh include a photo project of women workers and a “Trace my Fashion” QR code project in partnership with fashion and management students.
“Instead of pointing out the negatives, I’d rather work actively towards improving the [clothing] industry, because it’s not going away anywhere,” said Nawshin Khair, Fashion Revolution country coordinator for Bangladesh.
“I would rather concentrate on ensuring the right opportunities are given to university students to join the management sector, because they are the future of Bangladesh and right now mid-tier and top-tier jobs in this billion dollar industry are only offered to foreigners because they have the training and know-how,” she said.
Source: The Guardian