Bangladeshi officials have charged 41 people with murder for the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed at least 1,127 workers, many of whom were young women. Those charged include Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, as well as at least a dozen government officials. Another individual was charged with building code violations.
The multi-story building that collapsed on April 24, 2013, housed five garment factories and a shopping center. Women make up the majority of garment workers in Bangladesh, providing low-cost labor to factories producing clothing for Western brands, including those sold in the US, Canada, and Europe.
The Rana Plaza collapse occurred only one day after inspectors had discovered cracks in the building facade and ordered it closed. That warning was ignored. As reported in the Summer 2013 issue of Ms. Magazine, “The factory owner . . . gave employees an ultimatum: work or lose a month’s pay.” In addition to those who died, around 2,500 more were injured or maimed. After the collapse, Mr. Rana was arrested attempting to flee the country.
Retailers and labor groups set up a compensation fund for survivors of the Rana Plaza tragedy and victims’ families. About $24 million has now been paid or pledged, but none of these funds were provided by Bangladeshi factory owners, according to a report in the Guardian. In addition, about a dozen of the retailers linked to Rana Plaza have failed to pay compensation.
Conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh have continued to come under fire, even after the Rana Plaza tragedy. A report released by Human Rights Watch in April 2015 found that poor working conditions, anti-unionism, and violent assault on union organizers still remains an issue for workers. According to Human Rights Watch, “Workers report violations including physical assault, verbal abuse – sometimes of a sexual nature – forced overtime, denial of paid maternity leave, and failure to pay wages and bonuses on time or in full.” One woman interviewed by Human Rights Watch explained, “In our factory, 80 percent of workers are female and they will get pregnant but the managers are not doing anything about maternity leave and bonuses. When we protested about it, our supervisors used really bad words against us, such as: ‘If you’re all concentrating on fucking, why are you working here? Go and work in a brothel.’”
Fewer than 10 percent of garment factories in Bangladesh are unionized. One worker explained to Human Rights Watch how he and his wife were attacked after trying to unionize: “Four people were holding me and beating me on the legs with bars and two people were beating her with iron bars. She was beaten on her head and on her back. Her arms were severely injured and bleeding. Bones of one of her fingers were broken. She had to get 14 stitches on her head. When they were beating up Mira, they were saying ‘You want to do union activities? Then we will shower you with blood.'”
The garment industry in Bangladesh employs about four million people and is the second largest in the world behind China. About four-fifths of Bangladesh’s exports are from the sale of ready-made garments.
Media Resources: BBC News 6/1/15; The Guardian 4/22/15; Human Rights Watch 4/22/15; Feminist Newswire 4/24/14; Ms. Magazine Summer 2013