This is the second incident in six months where a three-figure death count has been caused by unsafe working conditions, following a fire in the Tazreen Fashion building in November which killed 110 people. Bangladesh is notorious for wide-scale neglect of safety issues, and it is becoming a matter of worldwide concern that factory owners, in collusion with the Western clothing companies that they supply, are prepared to cut corners and abuse their workers until something gives way. Quite literally, in this case.
Primark have already admitted that one of the companies in the Rana Plaza, New Wave, supplies their stores, while Matalan have stated that they have been supplied in the past by that company. War On Want have pointed out that New Wave also supply Mango and Bon Marché. The other companies in the building have refused to reveal their client list. It's likely that these too supply internationally-known name brands.
Which brings us to the central question. How long are we prepared to put up with this? Bangladesh is the high-profile tip of an iceberg that has remained under the surface for way too long. President of Bangladeshi workers union the National Garment Workers Federation Amirul Haque Amin says:
"This negligence must stop. The deaths of these workers could have been avoided if multinational corporations, governments, factory owners and owners' associations would take workers' wellbeing seriously. Instead the family of the victims must live the consequences of this terrible tragedy."Bangladeshi Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir said the building had violated construction codes and "the culprits would be punished". Meanwhile the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has announced a national day of mourning on Thursday in memory of the victims.
All well and good, but there are at least 80 families today who have lost not just loved ones, but their incomes. Most factory workers live one paypacket from poverty, and the Rana Plaza collapse means that they will soon be destitute.
Along with War On Want and other human rights charities, Pier32 condemns the actions of the landlords and factory owners that led to this disaster, and demands immediate financial compensation and urgent medical care for those families affected by the loss, either through death or injury. That's not enough, of course. There needs to be full, root and branch change throughout the garment industry, ensuring that international brands take full responsibility for the well-being of everyone that works for them, regardless of where they are on the planet.
More on this tomorrow.