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Ten years ago this week an eight-storey factory complex in an industrial suburb of Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring thousands of others.
The Rana Plaza disaster ranks as one of the worst industrial disasters on record. It shook the fashion industry, shining a spotlight on critical safety failings in major brands’ supply chains. In its wake, hundreds of brands signed a groundbreaking safety agreement that helped improve conditions in thousands of factories in Bangladesh, but elsewhere little has changed.
This week on the BoF Podcast, labour rights activist and founder of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity Kalpona Akter reflects on where the industry stands a decade later, while BoF’s Imran Amed and chief sustainability correspondent Sarah Kent discuss what still needs to change.
“If you ask me then, ‘what did you achieve in the last 10 years?’ I can say then only the improvement of safety,” says Akter. “The other areas of workers’ rights, like wages, it is still poor.”
- Fashion remains a dangerous business, with hundreds of people killed and injured in its manufacturing supply chain every year. “You see fires, electrical safety issues, issues around the handling of toxic chemicals, issues with unsafe boilers, really serious incidents that lead to injury and death on a regular basis,” says Kent.
- Efforts to address dangerous working conditions have been undercut by relentless demand for faster, cheaper fashion. “[It] leads to this race to the bottom, where manufacturers get squeezed and then start to cut corners in different places, from safety to wages to worker well-being. That is a huge systemic macro problem,” says Kent.
- Consumers have the power to make a big difference by letting companies know they care about how the people who make their clothes are treated. “When they’re in the store, if they can go beyond size, colour, style and price and start asking questions from the store managers… I think that would start ringing the bell in bosses’ offices,” says Akter.