24th April marks 10 years since the Rana Plaza disaster, when the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh collapsed in a preventable accident. More than 1,100 people died and another 2,500 were injured, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history.
The building at Rana Plaza contained multiple clothing factories manufacturing items for brands including Benetton, Mango, Matalan and Primark, and was reported to have cracks in the walls. There had been multiple warnings that it was unsafe. On the 23rd April 2013 the building was evacuated because of the cracks, but the owner of the building then stated it was safe to return to work, and threatened to withhold pay from anyone who didn’t. The next day the building collapsed with more than 3,000 people inside.
Rana Plaza was not the first or last garment factory disaster, but it was symptomatic of wider pressures felt by producer countries worldwide. Garment worker wages continue to be artificially low and brands continue to source from regions where it is impossible or unsafe for workers to form trade unions and bargain for greater rights. The Rana Plaza disaster exposed the widespread lack of transparency across global fashion supply chains, and how a lack of visibility can ultimately cost lives. Without transparency, issues remain hidden and unresolved at their root.
In 2013, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh started as a 5-year agreement to pursue workplace safety in the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector. The agreement was initially signed by 40 brands and retailers, 2 global trade unions and 8 Bangladesh trade unions in the immediate aftermath of the building collapse. The improvements made in the sector as a result of the Accord are an example of why binding obligations and the inclusion of workers’ voices in decision making are necessary to foster positive change towards a fair fashion industry. It has contributed to safer workplaces for over 2 million garment factory workers in Bangladesh. But garment workers worldwide are still at risk.
During Fashion Revolution Week (22nd - 29th April 2023), we are remembering Rana Plaza and the lives lost, and continuing to demand that no one dies for fashion.