Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Progress after the Rana Plaza disaster? Industry experts weigh in

Last Friday marked two years since the Rana Plaza disaster on 24th April 2013, when an eight-story commercial building collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing over 1,100 people and injuring another 2,500. The building housed shops, apartments, and a bank, but was also being used illegally as a makeshift garment factory, where 5,000 workers were producing clothing for many well-known retailers, including Benetton, Bonmarché, El Corte Inglés, Monsoon Accessorise, Mango, Matalan, Primark and Walmart. Since then, retailers, charities and political organisations all around the world have worked with factories and the Bangladesh government to improve safety standard and working conditions for the millions of people involved in the garment industry.

But what real progress has actually been made?

Four days ago, on the anniversary of the disaster, industry bible Drapers Magazine led with a very positive online article hailing the 'vast improvements' across the garment industry in Bangladesh, which is making 'strides in the right direction'. Increased wages and the introduction of more factory inspections are two initiatives which 'have improved the safety and living standards of staff producing clothing for UK retailers', without damaging the competitiveness of the industry. According to Drapers, the minimum wage for garment workers in Bangladesh also rose 76% in November 2013 from 3,000 taka per month (£25.98) to 5,300 (£45.89), and the country's government has launched an industry wide inspection of around 4,500 factories. But only around 30 of the factories inspected so far have actually been closed down, and a recent 2013 study by the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies concluded that a fair 'living wage' was at least 50% more than what workers currently receive.

Since May 2013, a number of UK retailers including Arcadia, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer have signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, one of the key agreements drawn up in the wake of the collapse. But according to both the Financial Times and the Independent, the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund (set up to provide compensation to the thousands of workers and families affected by the disaster) is still millions of pounds away from the minimum target set by professional services group PwC, with around a dozen retailers with links to the factories involved yet to pay anything at all. Perhaps more importantly, there are still key issues at the heart of Bangladesh, both in terms of its infrastructure and government policies. An in-depth article by the Washington Post reveals that although there have been reforms to labour laws, unions currently exist in only 10% of factories, and 'those who try to organise or advocate often face violence or simply lose their jobs'.

But the article also points out that although the industry is only at the very beginning of a long road to acceptable working conditions in Bangladesh, the tragedy has cast light on problems faced by many developing countries around the world, which retailers and governments are now working hard to address. Nate Herman, Vice President for International Trade at the American Apparel and Footwear Association, maintains that "What we've seen in Bangladesh is that working together can make a difference...lessons learned are being carried over by the industry into other factories around the world". Aleya Akter, President of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) sums up this need for global collaboration when she pleads, "Do not walk away from us. Do not walk away from Bangladesh".

See also:

Wikipedia's overview of the event and its aftermath, including retailers involved.

Drapers' positive slant on the progress made since the disaster.

The Financial Times discusses the gap in funding and praises Primark for its contribution.

Independent article naming and shaming some of the retailers yet to pay compensation.

Textile World reproduces the joint statement from some of the world's leading political powers on the second anniversary of the tragedy, which calls on the government of Bangladesh to do more.

Business of Fashion looks at the sourcing policies of M&S, named the most ethical high street retailer of 2014 by Ethical Consumer magazine.

Excellent Washington Post article on progress made so far and the challenges still facing the industry.

Follow me on Bloglovin


No comments

Post a Comment

© THE GREEN SCENE | All rights reserved.
Blogger Templates by pipdig