Two years after the Rana plaza disaster, in which over 1,000 people lost their lives, warrents have finally been issued. The owner, Sohel Rana, has been charged with murder. He's not alone. In total 42 people, including a dozen government officials have been arrested in conjunction with the crime. Also indicted are the owners of several factories housed in the building.
So why has it taken so long for the Bangladeshi justice system to creak into action? Accusations have flown of corruption, of police in the pockets of vested interests. In fact, factory owners in Bangladesh are powerful enough to influence government policy. And investigators have privately admitted that their efforts have been hampered by officials that have done their best to make sure certain figures are not charged.
But the fact is that an industrial accident on this scale is enormously complicated to properly investigate. Investigators have taken statements from over 1,200 witnesses, from injured factory workers to structural experts. The full story may never come out, but it now seems clear that the building had three extra stories added without proper safety checks.
Arrests on this scale and at this level of Bangladeshi life are unprecedented. But international outrage and attention has kept the story alive, and made sure that this one isn't being brushed under the carpet. We're still a long way from seeing Mr. Rana and his co-defendants in a courtroom. And the notion of justice when applied to the multinationals involved in the case seems to have vanished. At one point charges of culpable homicide were being levelled at the likes of Gap and Walmart. No longer, it seems. And let's not forget that many families of the deceased are still waiting for fair compensation.
Nonetheless, this is a major step forward that has sent shockwaves through the upper echelons of Bangladeshi society. This is not simple scapegoating. This is a move that could fundamentally rewrite the way the vitally important fashion sector does business in the country. When business as usual means unsafe working conditions, something drastic needs to change. At last, that might be the case in Bangladesh.