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Rana Plaza FactoryGlobal Outcry Triggers Industry Action
On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Savar Upazila, Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 1,132 people and injuring approximately 2,515. The factory collapse highlighted the poor working conditions in the Bangladesh garment industry. It is alleged that the upper four floors of the complex had been built without a permit and the building was not designed to house factories with heavy machinery. Despite clear warning signals, such as cracks appearing in the building’s walls the day before the disaster, the factory owner told workers to return to work, and managers were threatened to withhold workers’ pay for a month if they refused to come to work. Several global brands are reported to have had orders with one of the five garment factories located in Rana Plaza when the incident took place including Walmart, Mango, Inditex, Matalan, Benetton and The Children’s Place.
Following the disaster, there was a global outcry against the poor treatment of workers and the hazardous working conditions and a number of brands produced public statements responding to the question: why did you place orders with these brands when they clearly break your OSH policies? A range of campaigns have been established and organizations — such as the Ethical Trading Initiative, UNI Global Union or IndustriAll Global Union — have united to help prevent disasters like this in the future and to provide compensation and remediation to those affected.
The main movement that aimed to improve working conditions for Bangladeshi textile workers was the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, where brands like Carrefour, ALDI, Mango, Inditex and H&M worked with factories, unions and industry bodies to improve conditions for workers. The Accord was a legally binding agreement involving the participating companies, the IndustriALL and UNI global unions, as well as several local unions in Bangladesh. Over 190 brands and retailers signed to the Accord and its 2018 update. Since its inception, the Accord covered 1,653 factories, 1,610 of which were inspected, with 184 deemed too dangerous to be part of the Accord. The Accord included provisions for independent safety inspections and public reporting, mandatory repairs and renovations and a core role for workers and their representatives. It also required factories to provide grievance mechanisms for workers and training on workplace safety.
In May 2020, the Accord transitioned to the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) — a Bangladesh company created by the Accord signatory brands, trade unions, and the garment and knitwear manufacturers associations in Bangladesh (BGMEA and BKMEA). In September 2021, the Bangladesh Accord transitioned to the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry — a two-year legally binding agreement between companies and trade unions to make ready-made garment (RMG) and textile factories safe. 150 garment brands and retailers signed up to the new Accord as of November 2021.
Despite these programmes, there are still significant OSH issues in garment factories. The ILO reports that there have been 109 serious accidents since the 2013 disaster, resulting in over 491 injuries and 27 deaths, in a range of factories including those making textiles.