News / Asia

Spotlight on Safety One Year After Bangladesh Building Collapse

Fatema holds a picture of her son Nurul Karim as she poses for a photograph in front of her house in Savar, April 21, 2014. Fatema lost her son and her daugther Arifa, who were working at the Rana Plaza when it collapsed on April 24, 2013.
Fatema holds a picture of her son Nurul Karim as she poses for a photograph in front of her house in Savar, April 21, 2014. Fatema lost her son and her daugther Arifa, who were working at the Rana Plaza when it collapsed on April 24, 2013.
Anjana Pasricha
Nearly one year after a deadly building collapse in Bangladesh killed more than 1100 garment workers, efforts have begun to improve safety in the world’s second largest supplier of clothing. Many of the victim’s families still are waiting for adequate compensation, however, while hundreds of survivors are unemployed and coping with the trauma of that tragic day.
 
For the last 15 years, the owner of Bangladesh’s Softex Sweater plant, Rezwan Selim, had been manufacturing clothes in a rented building in Bangladesh's capital. But in early March, his booming business screeched to a grinding halt when international inspectors told him to stop work because the factory was not structurally safe.     
 
“I had no option but to evacuate. That is what I have done. The building needs to be retrofitted, and the retrofitting -- who is going to do it, who is going to pay for it? All these issues are being discussed,” said Selim.
 
The closure is a result of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, an initiative launched by 150 mostly European retailers after hundreds of workers were crushed to death or injured when the eight-story Rana Plaza building  collapsed a year ago. Although the factory on Dhaka’s outskirts had developed cracks, workers were told to continue sewing clothes. It was the garment industry’s worst-ever disaster.    

Rana Plaza legacy

The pile of rubble which still sits at the Rana Plaza site turned the global spotlight on the poorly-built, unsafe workshops that churn out apparel sold by global retailers in Europe and the Americas. The collapse put pressure on multinational retailers to ensure that the garment factories producing their labels are safe.  
 
The tragedy has prompted key first steps to ensuring the protection of garment workers. The accord has resulted in the inspection of about 300 of 1500 buildings it plans to survey by September. Eight, including Selim’s factory, have been completely or partly closed in an effort to avert another Rana Plaza type of disaster.
 
The accord is not alone in its safety inspections, reviewing structural, electrical and fire safety systems. Another group of more than 20 American and Canadian retailers is leading a similar effort and has ordered one factory to close. The two initiatives have created confusion, but observers say the efforts are headed in the right direction.  

The executive director of the accord, Rob Wayss, sees the recent factory closures as an indication that change is taking place. But he admits that with much at stake for garment manufacturers, there is a measure of resistance.  
 
“I think in some ways, though, it is unfortunate, the requirement that suspension of production and evacuation of factory buildings is another indicator that progress is being made.," said Wayss,. "There is a price tag on the fixes, and so there has been a little bit of anxiety and a little bit of effort to try to push it back or slow it down.”

Making improvements

Garment industry owners have expressed concerns about the expense of renovating buildings, saying the efforts could hurt Bangladesh’s competitive edge and take business away to other Asian manufacturers. They want retailers to share some of the costs.
 
Activists point out that fears of global retailers reducing their footprint in Bangladesh in the wake of the disaster have not come to pass, and business has boomed in the past year. They are calling on garment factory owners to do more to improve the industry.   
 
Among them is Kalpona Akter, who heads the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity.
 
“These days they are shouting that we don’t have money and the accord is closing down our factory or the alliance is closing down our factory," said Akter. "They should not shout that they don’t have anything and they cannot make changes. They should do their own inspections and shift all those unsafe factories to safe buildings.”
 
The global spotlight since the Rana tragedy also has put pressure on government to improve working conditions for garment workers. The monthly minimum wage has been raised from $36 to $68. Additionally, a law has been passed that allows workers to form labor unions.   

Helping survivors

Many feel that amid the focus on safety, though, the plight of those who were working on that fateful day in Rana Plaza has been overlooked.  
 
For hundreds of them the nightmare continues.  
 
ActionAid Bangladesh has surveyed more than 2,200 family members of victims and survivors. The group's deputy director, Aamanur Rahman, said many of them have not found alternate employment. The few hundred dollars they got as compensation from the government or welfare organizations has long been spent, and they need money for food and to pay off outstanding house rent and loans.
 
Rahman said many survivors are still coping with physical injuries or mental trauma suffered on that fateful day.  
 
“Many of them still say they have a kind of phobia to work in a closed environment. Some of them are still suffering from insomnia," said Rahman. "Some of them are sometimes shocked by loud shouts. This kind of trauma still makes them panic [and prevents them] to return to their regular lives.”  
 
The question is whether the Rana Plaza disaster will become a turning point and ensure that the nearly 4 million workers in the industry never have to suffer a similar fate -- or will it be business as usual?

You May Like

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: US Army Turns Its Best Minds Toward Ebola

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

Dissident Venezuelan General Resurfaces in New York

Antonio Rivero has resurfaced after nearly a year in hiding, appearing at United Nations in New York More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid