Sunday, August 18, 2019 | ePaper
Sixth year into Rana Plaza tragedy
Pains still there
Today is the sixth anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse, the biggest industrial disaster in Bangladesh's history, which killed more than 1,130 and injured around 2,500 workers, sending shockwaves worldwide.
The eight-storey building had housed five garment factories that manufactured clothes for many international brands in Europe and North America.
Six years after the industrial disaster, working conditions for Bangladeshi apparel workers were tremendously improved following agreements on fire and factory safety signed by the local producers and western buyers' platform --the Accord and the Alliance. The government of Bangladesh and the International Labour Organization (ILO) also joined the task to improve working conditions in 4,000 garment factories in Bangladesh.
But no relief seems to be in sight for the thousands of survivors who are suffering from severe physical and psychological trauma.
"The condition of one-fifth the Rana Plaza survivors is getting worse six years after the disaster," says a study of ActionAid Bangladesh.
The survey finds some 51 per cent of the survivors of Rana Plaza disaster are still unemployed due to physical and mental challenges. "It was a deadly disaster which shocked the nation. The collapse of the Rana Plaza was a wake-up call to the industry. The local garment industry has transformed five years after the disaster," Salam Murshedy, former president of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) told The New Nation on Tuesday.
He said the local apparel manufacturers have heavily invested in the factory remediation process over the last five year to ensure workplace safety.
"The remediation process has almost done under the supervision of Accord and Alliance and National Action Plan taken jointly by the Government of Bangladesh and the ILO," he said, adding, "Fundamental changes relating to safety, inspection and compliance have been made to safeguard lives of over four million workers and to retain the confidence of global buyers."
"We appreciate the role of Accord and Alliance for making local garment industry safe. They have already branded the industry as one of the safest for workers in the world."
Murshedy, a leading apparel exporter of the country and also a member of parliament (MP), however, expressed dissatisfaction over the role of western buyers in the process because they spared other apparel manufacturing nations to follow the suit.
"Western buyers have applied stringent compliance rules on local garment units for workplace and workers' safety. But they refrained from doing so for other sourcing nation, raising question over their so-called campaign of 'responsible sourcing'."
He also mentioned that we had to invest big sum of money to complete the factory remediation process. This also led to rise in production cost of respective factories and thus squeeze their profit margins.
Textile and apparel units under the Envoy Group, owned by Murshedy, required Tk 25 crore to improve workplace safety.
"Buyers should pay the additional cost by raising price for local apparels. We have urged them to do so, but they are yet to respond to our call. Even they continue to put price pressure on us, which shows buyers' double-standard in implementing the ethical buying practice," said Salam Murshedy.
Responding to a question, he said, "We have already taken a number of initiatives to improve livelihood of the workers. Central fund has also been created to provide financial support to the families of the workers who die or receive grave injuries in their work places."
He also said that the government has already raised the minimum monthly wage for 4.4 million garment workers by around 51 per cent to Tk 8,000 from the existing Tk 5,300 with effect from December.
"Workplace safety has improved tremendously following the Rana Plaza tragedy. But workers are still deprived of their basic rights and financial benefits due to lack of proper enforcement of law," Nazma Akhter, President of Sammilito Grament Sramik Federation told The New Nation.
She said the government recently raised wages for the garment workers. But it is not adequate for a worker to maintain a decent life.
"Workers remained neglected though they had engaged hard work to flourish the industry. The government should do more for the welfare of the workers," she added.
Nazma Akhter also stressed the need for establishing a trust fund for compensating the families of the deceased workers and specialised hospitals for injured labourers.
She also urged the buyers to follow the ethical buying practice to improve livelihood of the local garment workers.
"The survivors of Rana Plaza are also in need of welfare. The government and industry owners should extend help for them as they are suffering from severe physical and psychological trauma," she added.