One Building. One morning. 1,100+ dead: The Story of Rana Plaza

The week between April 20th and April 26th is the annual #FashionRevoloutionWeek, and in 2020 it marks 7 years since the dark side of the fashion industry starkly came to the attention of the world.

April 23rd, 2013

Just outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh, an evacuation of garment workers and residents from the Rana Plaza, an 8 story part-commercial, part-residential building, took place. The evacuation was in response to large cracks that had visibly deteriorated along the internal walls within one of 5 garment factories which operate within the plaza. The owner of the Plaza, Sohel Rana, had been warned of the cracks multiple times prior but an evacuation never took place before. Mr Rana’s response to the evacuation? “This is not a crack. It’s just a bit of plaster that’s come off.” He then ordered everyone back to work, informing them it was safe to do so and threatening to withhold the pay of those who did not comply. The garment workers had no choice.

April 24th, 2013

Rana Plaza crumbled to the ground crushing to death over 1,100 people, leaving many more with life-long debilitating injuries. It took the emergency services 17 days of search and rescue to recover those that they could.

Rana Plaza. Credit: FashionUnited

The 5 garment factories within Rana Plaza collectively made millions of garments for 20 foreign companies, such as Matalan, Primark, and Bonmarche to name a few. The collapse of Rana Plaza, and the deaths of over 1,100 people, was down to severe neglect and a severe lack of health & safety. According to the Bangladesh Fire Service & Civil Defense, the upper floors of the building were built without a permit and were structurally unsafe.

 In the months after the preventable tragedy, 18 people including Mr Rana, were arrested and charged for violating the building codes. Mr Rana was burdened with most of the blame for unjust deaths of his workers, but, brands and retailers were also tarnished sentenced with the same damnation and were held accountable for their lack of due diligence:  not monitoring the capacity of their suppliers, not insisting on good health and safety practices, and not ensuring the fair wage of the factory workers.  Meanwhile, the fashion industry watched with bated breath, clutching at their pearls, as the appalling treatment of the Rana Plaza factory workers was revealed to the world, and as the conversation around industry ethics became a prominent topic of international conversation.

The Rana Plaza collapse had unearthed a truth that many corporations had rather kept hidden. Immediately in the following weeks, there was an international outcry. Consumers vowed to boycott brands around the world, and in response, approximately 250 companies signed two initiatives, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, both of which were designed to improve safety dramatically in 2,300 factories supplying western brands.

Now 7 years on, #FashionRevoloutionWeek annually remembers the victims of the fashion industry, and through the non-profit organisation behind it, Fashion Revolution, the week calls for us all to push for fairer wages, acceptable health and safety standards and to question #WhoMadeMyClothes?


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