In the back streets of Savar, a couple of minutes from Rana Plaza, we met Bojol and Parvez, two little boys playing with their favourite toys. Like any other children their eyes light up when they’re playing with the toys they love. For those two it is a car and a small plastic plane. But their lives have changed beyond recognition in the last six months. They have their toys, but not those who loved them the most.
Nearby in the Amecas primary school, lessons stopped when they heard the factory falling down and many of the children ran to try to find their parents who worked in the factory. There are empty desks in the classroom now – many orphans have been taken away from the city by relatives or charities. When more than a thousand adults were killed in the factory complex it left as many as 700 children without their mother or father. One of the saddest facts about the disaster is that there is still no precise number for the families where parents were killed, because there are still so many bodies that haven’t been identified. A completely accurate list of workers who were in the building is hard to find.
There are also more than a hundred survivors who are still receiving medical treatment. Some we met at the CRP rehabilitation hospital will never walk again, and some are taking their first steps to learn to walk for the second time. But the scale of this disaster makes it hard, not just for the survivors and victims’ families to move on, but also for the country’s biggest trade -selling garments to the West.
Valerie Taylor, from the UK, came to Bangladesh decades ago, where she founded the CRP hospital and has stayed ever since. She and her team are still providing care for those injured at Rana Plaza. She believes that British consumers will never really understand what life is like for factory workers here, but that those who shop on our high streets must never forget. She said we must consider that people here deserve a “fair wage and a safe environment”. She added: “It just so happens that we were born into an affluent country where everything is there for us – people in Bangladesh have never had these chances.”
Whether or not we as consumers or British companies feel responsibility for conditions in factories in Bangladesh, there is no doubt that we have a role to play. Rana Plaza was an unsafe building that was constructed by a Bangladeshi owner that did not take enough care. A lack of respect for rules and regulations means that is not unusual in this country. But British trade with Bangladesh, which puts hundreds of millions of pounds of clothes on our high streets, is enormous. That means what British companies want, or how they have to respond to consumers, is significant. Thousands of lives have already been transformed by the disaster, and for the worse. But what changes next in this country is therefore, in part, up to us.