Farah Kabir is the country director, Bangladesh, of Action Aid, one of the many international non-governmental agencies that have been looking at the situation of the nation’s garment workers from both the ground level and the macro perspective. A study done by the organization six months after the Rana Plaza disaster last April outlined some of the key points faced by industry workers and gave a human sense of the aftermath. Kabir spoke to WWD about some of the key issues.
WWD: Looking back, would you say that the garment industry in Bangladesh has seen both extreme tragedy and intense change? Farah Kabir: I wish I could say that there have been amazing changes, but it has been a very mixed bag. As you follow the story of the fires, of the collapse of the building of Rana Plaza and the deaths of so many workers, the story of 2013 has been full of tension. After the Rana Plaza incident as well, it has been how survivors are rehabilitated, how the injured have come back to work and how many of the families of the dead have not been compensated — these are issues that continue to haunt the survivors.
We are very pleased to see contributions that have been made by the national manufacturers fund that have supported 18 workers and have contributed towards their treatment; the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association has provided support to a larger number of workers by allocating 45 million taka [about $562,000], which includes medical expenses. However, this is far below the expected compensation as per trade union needs. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of haggling over the issue of how much money has to be given to the workers as adequate compensation. The responses from the government and other agencies have been very slow in terms of funds and monetary compensation and the response has been quite ad hoc and I would say it’s more a form of tokenism.
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"