2013 Savar building collapse
On 24 April 2013, Rana Plaza, an eight-story commercial building, collapsed in Savar, a sub-district in the Greater Dhaka Area, the capital of Bangladesh. The search for the dead ended on 13 May with the death toll of 1,129. Approximately 2,515 injured people were rescued from the building alive.
It is considered to be the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, as well as the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history.
The building contained clothing factories, a bank, apartments, and several other shops. The shops and the bank on the lower floors immediately closed after cracks were discovered in the building. Warnings to avoid using the building after cracks appeared the day before had been ignored. Garment workers were ordered to return the following day and the building collapsed during the morning rush-hour.
The building, Rana Plaza, was owned by Sohel Rana, allegedly a leading member of the local Jubo League, the youth wing of the ruling Awami League political party. It housed a number of separate garment factories employing around 5,000 people, several shops, and a bank. The factories manufactured apparel for brands including Benetton, Bonmarché, the Children's Place, El Corte Inglés, Joe Fresh, Mango, Matalan, Primark, and Walmart.
The head of the Bangladesh Fire Service & Civil Defense, Ali Ahmed Khan, said that the upper four floors had been built without a permit. Rana Plaza's architect, Massood Reza, said the building was planned for shops and offices – but not factories. Other architects stressed the risks involved in placing factories inside a building designed only for shops and offices, noting the structure was potentially not strong enough to bear the weight and vibration of heavy machinery.
Bangladeshi news media reported that inspectors had discovered cracks in the building the day before and had requested evacuation and closure. The shops and the bank on the lower floors immediately closed, but garment workers were forced to return the following day, their supervisors declaring the building to be safe. Managers at Ether Tex threatened to withhold a month's pay from workers who refused to come to work.
Collapse and rescue
The building collapsed at about 09:00, leaving only the ground floor intact. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president confirmed that 3,122 workers were in the building at the time of the collapse. One local resident described the scene as if "an earthquake had struck."
Within hours of the collapse, the United Nations offered to send expert rescue teams with dogs, micro-cameras and other equipment to the site, but this offer was rejected by Dhaka authorities.
One of the garment manufacturers' websites indicates that more than half of the victims were women, along with a number of their children who were in nursery facilities within the building. Bangladeshi Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir confirmed that army, fire service personnel, Police and Rapid Action Battalion troops were assisting with the rescue effort. Volunteer rescue workers used bolts of fabric to assist survivors to escape from the building. A national day of mourning was held on 25 April.
On 8 May an army spokesman, Mir Rabbi, said the army's attempt to recover more bodies from the rubble would continue for at least another week. On 10 May, 17 days after the collapse, a woman named Reshma was found and rescued alive and almost unhurt under the rubble.
The day after the Rana Plaza building collapse, the Dhaka city development authority filed a case against the owners of the building and the five garment factories operating inside it. On the same day, dozens of survivors were discovered in the remains of the building. Although at first Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had denied the membership of Rana in the Jubo League, after intense criticism of her speech she ordered the arrest of Sohel Rana and four of the owners of the garment factories operating in the building. Sohel Rana was reported to have gone into hiding; however, authorities reported that four other individuals had already been arrested in connection with the collapse. Police finally arrested Rana in Jessore District in western Bangladesh on April 28.
Two days after the building collapse, garment workers across the industrial areas of Dhaka, Chittagong and Gazipur rioted, targeting vehicles, commercial buildings and garment factories. The next day, leftist political parties and the BNP-led 18 Party Alliance demanded the arrest and trial of suspects and an independent commission to identify vulnerable factories. Four days after the building collapsed, the owner of the Rana Plaza, Sohel Rana, was arrested at Benapole, on the Indo-Bangladeshi border, in Jessore District by security forces. On the same day a fire broke out at the disaster site and authorities were forced to temporarily suspend the search for survivors.
On 1 May on International Workers' Day, protesting workers paraded through central Dhaka by the thousands to demand safer working conditions and the death penalty for the owner of Rana Plaza. A week later hundreds of survivors of Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster blocked a main highway to demand wages, as the death toll from the collapse of a nine-storey building passed 700. Local government officials said they had been in talks with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association for the workers to be paid their outstanding April salaries plus a further three months – £97. After officials promised the surviving workers that they would be soon paid, they ended their protest. The government and garment association were compiling a list of surviving employees to establish who must be paid and compensated. The next day, 18 garment plants, including 16 in Dhaka and two in Chittagong, were closed down. Textile minister, Abdul Latif Siddique, told reporters that more plants would be shut as part of strict new measures to ensure safety.
On 5 June, police in Bangladesh opened fire on hundreds of former workers and relatives of the victims of the collapse who were protesting to demand back pay and compensation promised by the government and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
On 10 June, seven inspectors were suspended and accused of negligence for renewing the licenses of garment factories in the building that collapsed.
On 22 September, at least 50 people were injured when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd of protesters who were blocking streets in Dhaka demanding a minimum wage of $100 (8,114 takas) a month. In November, a 10-story garment factory in Gazipur, which supplied Western brands, was allegedly burned down by workers angered over rumours of a colleague's death in police firing.
In March 2014 Rana Plaza owner Sohel Rana was granted six months' bail in the High Court. This prompted angry reactions from labour leaders. However, Rana will not be released from jail as another case filed by police is pending.
Worldwide criticism Politicians
Nick Clegg, current UK Deputy PM and leader of the Liberal Democrats said: "... there's more we could do to talk about what goes on behind the scenes and this terrible catastrophe might well prompt people to think again."
Michael Connarty, UK's Falkirk East MP, is calling on the UK Government to push through new legislation to end modern day slavery by forcing major High Street companies in the UK to audit their supply chain. The framework will request those companies to make vigorous checks to ensure slave labour is not used in third world countries, and the UK, to produce their goods.
Karel De Gucht, current European Commissioner for Trade, warned that retailers and the Bangladeshi government could face action from the EU if nothing is done to improve the conditions of workers – adding that shoppers should also consider where they are spending their money.
On 1 May, Pope Francis spoke out against the working conditions in the factory:
A headline that really struck me on the day of the tragedy in Bangladesh was 'Living on 38 euros a month'. That is what the people who died were being paid. This is called slave labour. Today in the world this slavery is being committed against something beautiful that God has given us – the capacity to create, to work, to have dignity. How many brothers and sisters find themselves in this situation! Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God!
Human Rights Watch stated their concern over the number of factory-building tragedies in Bangladesh; there have been numerous major accidents in the country in the past decade, including the 2012 Dhaka fire.
Industrial Global Union, a global union federation representing textile and garment workers' trade unions around the world, launched an online campaign in support of the Bangladeshi unions' demand for labour law reform in the wake of the disaster. The campaign, hosted on Labour Start, calls for changes in the law to make it easier for unions to organise workers, as well as demanding improved health and safety conditions.
On 27 April, protesters surrounded Primark store on Oxford Street in the City of Westminster in the West End of London. Speaking outside the store, Murray Worthy, from campaign group War on Want, said:
‘We’re here to send a clear message to Primark that the 300 deaths in the Bangladesh building collapse were not an accident – they were entirely preventable deaths. If Primark had taken its responsibility to those workers seriously, no one need have died this week.’
The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights established a workers relief fund which raised $26,000 for injured workers and surviving family members by September 2013.
Dozens of consumers in the United States spoke out against unsafe working conditions found in the factory building. People also unleashed their anger at retailers that did not have any connections to that specific building, but are known to source from factories located in Bangladesh.
Fashion industry response
At a meeting of retailers and NGOs a week after the collapse, a new Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh was created and a deadline of 16 May was set to sign it. The agreement expands on a previous accord signed only by the US-based PVH which owns Calvin Klein, and German retailer Tchibo.
Walmart, along with 14 other North American companies, refused to sign the accord as the deadline passed. As of 23 May 2013, thirty-eight companies had signed the accord. Walmart, J.C. Penney and labour activists have been considering an agreement to improve factory safety in Bangladesh for at least two years. In 2011, Walmart rejected reforms that would have had retailers pay more for apparel to help Bangladesh factories improve safety standards.
On 10 July 2013, a group of 17 major North American retailers, including Walmart, Gap, Target and Macy's, announced a plan to improve factory safety in Bangladesh, drawing immediate criticism from labour groups who complained that it was less stringent than an accord reached among European companies. Unlike the accord joined mainly by European retailers, the plan lacks legally binding commitments to pay for those improvements.
Dov Charney the founder & CEO of American Apparel was interviewed on Vice.tv and spoke out against the poor treatment of workers in developing countries and refers to it as "slave labor." Charney proposes a "Global Garment Workers Minimum Wage" as well discusses in detail many of the inner workings of the modern Fast fashion industry commerce practices that leads to dangerous factory conditions like at Savar
Compensation to victims
As of mid-September 2013, compensations to families of disaster victims were still under discussion, with many families struggling to survive after having lost a major wage earner. Families who had received the $200 compensation from Primark were only those who were able to provide DNA evidence of their relative's death in the collapse, something which proved extremely difficult. The US government provided DNA kits to the families of victims.
Of the 29 brands identified as having sourced products from the Rana Plaza factories, only 9 attended meetings held in November 2013 to agree a proposal on compensation to the victims. Several companies refused to sign including Walmart, Carrefour, Mango, Auchan and Kik. The agreement was signed by Primark, Loblaw, Bonmarche and El Corte Ingles. By March 2014, seven of the 28 international brands sourcing products from Rana Plaza had contributed to the Rana Plaza Donor’s Trust Fund compensation fund, which is backed by the International Labour Organization.
The Savar building collapse has led to widespread discussions about corporate social responsibility across global supply chains. Based on an analysis of the Savar incident, Wieland and Handfield (2013) suggest that companies need to audit products and suppliers and that supplier auditing needs to go beyond direct relationships with first-tier suppliers. They also demonstrate that visibility needs to be improved if supply cannot be directly controlled and that smart and electronic technologies play a key role to improve visibility. Finally, they highlight that collaboration with local partners, across the industry and with universities is crucial to successfully managing social responsibility in supply chains.
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