Although industry leaders expected a day of quiet prayers and remembrance in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Sunday to mark the third anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory, protests and demonstrations showed that the sting of memory and the depth of grieving still burned deeply among workers across the nation’s apparel industry.
Activists and garment workers protested outside the state graveyard, where hundreds of unidentified workers who died in the collapse are buried. The protesters called for justice and the death penalty for Sohel Rana, the owner of the eight-story building, who remains in police custody.
There also were protests at the site of Rana Plaza in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka, but the anger was mixed with tears and relatives holding photographs of the some of the 1,100 people who died in the tragedy.
Firefighters also joined the crowds, remembering their own role in the rescue of more than 2,500 survivors and the recovery of the bodies of the dead by cutting through metal and cement.
International representatives of governments and non-governmental organizations pledged their continuing support to the Bangladesh industry, again assuaging the fear that big brands and retailers would flee to other, cheaper and safer havens of production elsewhere in the world.
Speaking at a discussion on Saturday, U.S. Ambassador Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat reiterated her support. “The U.S. remains committed to working with Bangladesh to improve worker rights and safety. That commitment has never wavered; it will not. Bangladesh is a leader in the industry today. By fully enforcing safety standard and worker rights, it can remain in that leadership position and enhance itself in a highly competitive global industry today,” she said.
The discussion — organized by the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a think tank in Bangladesh at the BRAC Centre on the theme of “Post-Rana Plaza Monitoring: A Civil Society Initiative” — was also a forum for the exchange of ideas and questions to many of the top stakeholders. It was attended by garment workers as well as ministers, factory owners and activists, NGOs and representatives of global brands and retailers. The discussion took note of progress and accusations while also focusing on the concern of factory remediation and labor organization.
“Some of the challenges that we face in terms of remediation are of the shared factory spaces and rented factories,” Mikail Shipar, minister for labor and employment, said at the event. He also included “insufficient technical assistance and remediation financing and continuous monitoring of the remediation process” as key concerns.
Shipar referred to the key changes that the department of labor has made in the last three years — from wage issues to the hiring of inspectors, worker training and other continuing initiatives.
Nearly everyone agreed that safety in garment factories had come a long way after the inspections by the Bangladesh government and the two groups of global brands and retailers — the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.
Dr. Khondaker Golam Moazzem, additional research director at CPD, presented a paper analyzing and summarizing the situation, noting the 3,632 factories that had been inspected by both the global and the national initiatives. He said that 39 factories had been closed so far, 42 factories were partially closed and the accord and the alliance had suspended 100 factories. He added that there was better progress in case of electrical problems, a 37 percent improvement, followed by fire at 24 percent and building-safety related, 11 percent.