Haunted: A Decade After Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza Disaster

Visitors look at photographs of an exhibition commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image: Getty Images. Credit: Munir Uz Zaman/Agence France-Presse.

Ten years since its collapse, the Rana Plaza tragedy continues to haunt our industry. As activists and academics reflect on the incremental progress made since fashion's deadliest factory collapse in 2013, Bangladesh's fight for safe conditions and fair pay for factory workers has not yet been won. 

Located in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Rana Plaza housed five separate garment factories in an eight-storey building — five sets of machinery, five inventories of clothing and fabric bales, and five sets of staff crammed into tight rows. The Rana Plaza disaster symbolised not only the lack of factory safety in fashion's supply chains but a matrix of systemic issues — from garment worker vulnerability to the colonial power dynamics between brands and suppliers.

A report blamed the mayor for wrongly granting construction approvals and recommended charges for the Rana Plaza building's owner. Image: Getty Images. Credit: Munir Uz Zaman/Agence France-Presse.

The Rana Plaza Solidarity Collective has labelled the event a "mass industrial homicide" in which at least 1,138 people died, including several rescue workers, and a further 2,500 were injured or disabled. The aftermath of the tragedy saw the creation of one of the world's toughest factory safety agreements, the International Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Signed weeks after Rana Plaza, the legally binding landmark agreement brought brands, manufacturers and union representatives together to check and fix buildings and advise workers of their rights. It was the first time fashion industry regulations forced global fashion brands to acknowledge their direct responsibility for factory conditions in their supply chains and established ground-breaking levels of accountability and transparency. There have been nearly 56,000 safety inspections across more than 2,400 garment factories in Bangladesh and more than 140,000 safety improvements. The factory refurbishments protect more than two million workers.

The Accord initiative was widely viewed as the fashion industry's most successful safety campaign, spurring efforts to expand its reach beyond Bangladesh. However, the agreement was not considered a long-term solution and expired in 2021, and the Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council replaced the Accord in June 2020.

Image Alt Text - 169 characters: Logo for the Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council, which took over from the International Accord on Fire and Building Safety as of June 2020. Image: RSC Bangladesh.

What is the Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council?

Also known as the RSC, the Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council was officially registered in May 2020 as a safety monitoring body of the RMG sector in Bangladesh. This private initiative was set up by three constituents: Shondhi Limited representing the industry, the Brands Association for Textile & RMG Sustainability in Supply Chains and the Trade Union Association for Textile & RMG Sustainability in Supply Chains. In June 2020, the RSC inherited the operations, staff, policies and infrastructure of the local Bangladesh Accord office and is now equipped to implement health and safety inspections and remediation monitoring, safety training and safety complaints handling functions. 

A decade on from one of the biggest disasters in the textile industry, the RSC continues to monitor factories, ensuring all outstanding safety issues are remediated and verified as correctly fixed and that the labour-management Safety Committees in the factories are qualified to monitor and address workplace safety on a daily basis. The RSC aims to jointly implement a sectorial safety standard minimising health peril, preventing avoidable accidents, and empowering factory management and workers through training and capacity building. But unfortunately, the RSC is not considered a legally binding contract, more of a pledge meaning any brands or factories at risk of violating the agreement do not face as serious a repercussion as the Accord.

A garment factory in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka. About 2 million workers are covered by the Bangladesh Accord, while a similar number are not. Image: Getty Images. Credit: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP.

Fashion industry labour issues have long been an area of concern. According to the 2022 Fashion Transparency Index, 73% of brands do not disclose their approach to achieving living wages for supply chain workers, 96% do not disclose the number of workers in their supply chain paid a living wage, and 94% do not publish their annual progress towards living wages. 

Bangladesh is the second-largest exporter of clothing in the world, behind China. The shocking event has not prevented Bangladesh's RMG sector from making significant progress in the decade since the disaster, with exports and market share continuing to grow. Big suppliers have made major investments in more modern factories, and Bangladesh is a leader in achieving LEED Green Factory certifications.

CSR at Gen Woo 

At Gen Woo, we work closely with our family-run, GOTS-certified factories, which have passed the RSC safety checks and ensure ethical trading, sustainable sourcing, and social compliance remain at the core of our corporate responsibility.

We are certified by the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI), which means our supply chain is regularly monitored to ensure our garments are made in an ethical and socially responsible manner. We are also accredited members of Initiative Clause Sociale (ICS), whose objective is to promote and support continual improvement of the working conditions in our factory. 

We have strong policies in place to manage social and environmental welfare and are subject to regular audits by industry body Sedex. These audits ensure we maintain good standards and provide us with our SMETA certification. 

In the making of this article, we spoke with Gen Woo's founder about the initial Accord agreement, RSC, social compliance and how Gen Woo protects its factory workers.

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