Ten years after the Rana Plaza collapse: what has changed in the fashion industry?

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Ten years have passed since April 24th, 2013, when 1,138 people died under the rubble of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. It was not an unexpected tragedy since several incidents had already hit some neighboring garment factories. Still, the Rana Plaza collapse had unprecedented media coverage in the industry, increasing the awareness of citizens and authorities on the impacts of fashion.

What happened to the Rana Plaza building?

The large complex on Dhaka’s outskirts housed several shops, garment factories, and a bank. On April 23rd, 2013, some workers noticed structural cracks in the building. The bank and the stores were closed, while those who worked in the factories were forced to return the following day in order not to lose their jobs and salaries.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building destroyed entire families. Only after a few weeks was it possible to clarify the number of victims (80% women), and not all missing people were found. At least 2,600 other workers were injured or disabled.

“They tried to move the concrete slabs above us by hand. People were pulling me from both sides until they managed to pull me out. The weight of the cement had compromised my uterus, which was removed that same evening,” said one of the survivors, Shila Begum.

According to the International Federation for Human Rights, the responsibilities must be shared between the Bangladeshi authorities, who failed to protect the workers, the owners of the building, and the brands that exploited the production and were slow to admit being guilty.

What is the Rana Plaza Arrangement, and how has workers’ safety improved?

Under the pressure of movements and campaigns, a few months after the tragedy, the Rana Plaza Arrangement and an international agreement for the health and safety of workers in the textile and clothing industry were signed.

The first is a compensation scheme coordinated by the International Labor Organization, which required a long and complicated process. In fact, during the days following the collapse, no brand admitted to sourcing from those factories, but many labels with their names were found by those who excavated. For the first time, compensation was recognized under the convention on work-related accidents, and 30 million US dollars were raised.

The second arrangement, signed by more than 200 brands, has already been renewed twice and provides for qualified and independent inspections to ensure workers can be safer than a decade ago. They are adequately trained in safety and can make anonymous reports if they encounter problems. Recently, some brands in Pakistan have also started to adopt it.

However, according to Action Aid, 50% of survivors cannot find a job, mainly due to respiratory problems and injuries to the hands and eyes caused by the accident.

Fashion workers’ wages are still too low

Despite the significant results achieved in the last decade in some countries such as Bangladesh, workers in the fashion industry continue to be overwhelmed by the requests for ever faster and lower cost production, and safety standards in many countries still need to be fully respected.

Furthermore, the problem of too low wages still needs to be solved. A study by Deloitte Access Economics revealed that only 4% of the price of a garment goes to those who produce it. According to research by the ABLE and Nisolo brands, only 2% of workers in the fashion industry receive a salary that covers the most basic needs. 

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