Lest we forget

RPIt’s easier than it should be to put to the back of your mind that two years ago today 1134 garment workers died when the building they were working in in the Rana Plaza complex collapsed. It shouldn’t be easy. They died making cheap clothes for the high street retailers in the UK, the US and Europe that most of us buy without barely a thought. It’s an overwhelming tragedy that requires us all to think honestly not just about our own personal habits but also the system that resulted in this tragedy.

We must remember those, the majority of whom were women, who lost their lives, who suffered live changing injuries and the families left behind on that day two years ago, as all too often victims become just a number in a total that shocks us but paralyses us into inaction. For a short time afterwards, the mainstream media documented the practices in a long and complex global supply chain and the working conditions of those most vulnerable in it. The second anniversary is a timely reminder that much still needs to be done, unfortunately Rana Plaza was not a one off – the safety and working conditions of those producing garments is still precarious.

As the second largest producer of clothing and with a workforce that is made up of at least 85% women, have conditions changed in Bangladesh since the collapse? And what of the compensation for victims? Some of the brands producing at the factory contributed to the compensation fund but others were much less forthcoming,. Two years on what is the state of play for victims who lost loved ones, , or were injured and traumatised as a result?

The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Safety was created in the wake of the collapse and is a five-year independent and legally binding agreement between global brands, retailers and trade unions, which has over 190 signatories. Since it’s foundation, thousands of factories have been checked and many are working with the Accord to improve the working conditions of employees. As Liz Parker, human rights expert for garment manufacture, told us last year, the key aspect of the Accord is that it places workers in a central role, with trade unions engaged in monitoring buildings on an ongoing basis. Despite the positive work being done by the Accord, and progress is being made, Human Rights Watch has produced a report stating that workers are still facing poor working conditions and anti-union tactics are still being used.

The International Labour Organization is administering a compensation fund alongside UNI Global Union and IndustriALL Global Union; they have been collecting from the brands who were producing in the factory at the time. Earlier this year Benetton made a $1.1 million contribution to fund, which campaigners call a ‘token step’ with IndustriALL calling for a minimum contribution of $5 million and calculations show that the fund is still missing $6 million from the $30 million target. The Clean Clothes Campaign are marking the second anniversary with a global call to action, demanding that the Rana Plaza survivors and victims’ families immediately receive the full compensation they are entitled to; and that all apparel brands and retailers doing business in Bangladesh sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

A poll on the Guardian is asking if the Rana Plaza disaster has changed people’s shopping habits – and while the results are pending, at the time of posting 65% said no. Perhaps crucial to this is an understanding of how clothing is made. When CSF worked in a Leeds shopping centre earlier in the year alongside Antiform, the various stages of garment making were on show for the public to consider. This celebrated the complexity involved in the creation of our clothes.Something worth considering today, as a time for consideration, recognition and empathy for those involved in the production of the many of the clothes that fill our wardrobes.

But there are things you can do on a personal level, from asking brands for greater supply chain transparency, either by asking in store, writing to them, taking part in direct action around the issue or joining the Fashion Revolution campaign to ask #whomademyclothes.

As an ongoing action, we challenge ourselves to consider the wider causes of this heartbreaking collapse and understand the interconnectedness of the world we live in. Earlier this year, the film Clothes to Die For gave a voice to some of those working inside the factory. And yet the debate still rages around global supply chains and the safety and working conditions faced by those who make the clothes we consume veraciously on the other side of the globe.