Demonstrators gathered outside Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Monday to protest the slow pace of the payment of compensation, 10 months after the building’s collapse killed 1,133 workers.
Survivors, relatives of the dead and activists blamed foreign retailers as well as the government and employers for subjecting them to a long delay in making any payments. Survivors outlined the hardships they have suffered, and called for immediate action.
“Although it appears that many things are changing in the garment industry, it is as if we are not getting any benefit,” said Arik Rahman, a relative of one of those killed in the collapse of the eight-story building, who told WWD that it was a matter of shame that survivors and relatives had to wait for compensation.
On Monday, Clean Clothes Campaign launched the “Pay Up!” campaign to ensure that survivors and victims’ families were not waiting for compensation as the first anniversary of the disaster nears. It also has put a number to the amount needed, calling for donations of $40 million to compensate the families and the injured for the loss of income and medical expenses.
“The fund is open to all companies, donors and individuals who wish to express their solidarity and compassion,” CCC said, calling on brands such as Benetton, KiK and Children’s Place, “who all had orders at one of the five factories in Rana Plaza at the time of the collapse or in the recent past, to make significant contributions in order to ensure payments can begin.”
El Corte Inglés, Mascot, Mango, Inditex and Loblaw have already contributed to the fund and the CCC’s Ineke Zeldenrust said those donations were welcomed. But, reflecting the sentiments of the workers at Rana Plaza, she said overall the compensation efforts have been “completely haphazard, unequal, unpredictable and nontransparent, and have left large groups of victims with nothing.”
The organization said it has linked 27 brands directly to factories in Rana Plaza with either recent or trial orders or previous production, adding, “We believe they should all publicly contribute to the Rana Plaza Donor’s Trust Fund.”
According to CCC, the companies include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Ascena Retail Group Inc., Cato Fashions and Children’s Place in the U.S.; Auchan in France, and Matalan, Primark and Bon Marche in the U.K.
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Officials of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association have said it is a challenge to process and distinguish false claims and clearly identify the dead, but CCC noted that the “most credible labor and civil society organizations would be involved in processing claims through a team of independent local and international claim commissioners. In addition, medical assessments would be undertaken by qualified local doctors at the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed.”
BGMEA officials, who have been accused by workers of not doing enough to hurry the process along, agree that a garment workers victim foundation to support workers would help address victims of past events as well as protect others. However, they believe that the foundation should be supported by the U.S.-based retailers that make up the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety as well as the group of European retailers that support the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.
Over the last week, there has been much discussion among factory owners about other important issues and details being finalized to prevent similar disasters. As the Accord started its safety inspections of factories — intended to cover 1,500 sites by September — factory owners in Dhaka have been demanding that retailers put in more money to meet the requirements for installing better fire escapes, sprinkler systems and other safety measures.
“The requirements being set to us are not realistic given the financial abilities to meet them,” said Reaz Mahmud, a senior management official of a factory in Savar. “And then different brands want to come and inspect us separately as well. There are many things to be thought through before this is possible.”
Other factory owners said that the stringent conditions regarding factories not functioning out of shared buildings or rented houses were impossible to meet in such a short time frame, especially for older buildings that may need more restructuring to meet new safety standards.
Government officials have said that their factory inspections began a few months ago and are separate from the inspections being launched by the Accord team. In their view, even older factories were not impossible to rescue with some focused attention.
“It will be possible to reduce the vulnerability of old establishments in Dhaka by applying retrofitting technology,” said public works minister engineer Mosharraf Hossain.
More than 300 factories have been retrofitted to repair structural weakness since December, according to government officials.
Fumio Kaneko, team leader of the Japan International Cooperation Agency study team, pointed out at a seminar in Dhaka on Sunday that the collapse of buildings in Dhaka, such as Rana Plaza, is largely due to faulty and weak foundations, which need to be corrected.
Other problems persist. Although the wage board has come up with a new minimum wage, a survey of 946 factories by BGMEA revealed that only 60 percent of factory owners had begun paying the higher rate. BGMEA officials told WWD that these higher wages were in the process of implementation, and despite the deadline set for Dec. 1, 2013, for the higher wage of 5,300 taka, or $66, a month, the process of change was a slow one.
So as workers demand quicker action, employers, factory owners and government officials are asking for more time. As commerce minister Tofail Ahmed said earlier this month, referring to the stringent conditions being put forth by global retailers, “We are fully committed to improving workplace safety. But we need time to do so.”