Health and Safety in Bangladesh’s Garment Factories

Four years later survivors of the Rana Plaza factory collapse are still haunted by nightmares, anxiety and depression, not to mention lifelong crippling injuries.  1,138 people died on April 24, 2013, and 2,520 were seriously injured. Less than half of the factory workers survived. The Rana Plaza collapse is the deadliest garment-factory accident in history.  

Working conditions in these garment factories were notoriously bad, but the consumer diet for fast fashion fuels brands who can make tidy profits from selling cheap clothes using cheap labor. Long hours with little time for breaks, poor air quality, were just some of the hazards workers faced. Ultimately, in the case of Rana Plaza, the building was so structurally unsound it collapsed at 8:45 am.

The history of the garment industry in Bangladesh is rife with tragedy, including the fire at Tazreen, and the collapse of Spectrum in 2005.

Most of the garments made in Rana Plaza were for major Western brands, including Loblaws’ brand Joe Fresh. Although the workers did not know what brand of clothes they were making. There is still very little transparency as to the supply chain for most clothing brands, however by 2016 thirty-one global brands had been linked to the five garment factories housed within the Rana Plaza.

A class action suit was filed on behalf of the victims of the collapse, seeking fair compensation from Loblaws and Bureau Veritas, the firm retained by Loblaws to audit the Rana Plaza factories. Cited in the lawsuit are claims that Loblaws failed to require, and Bureau Veritas failed to perform audits that would have identified serious safety hazards in Rana Plaza.

Rochon Genova LLP, of Toronto Canada, are representing the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit.

“This is an important suit for garment workers in developing countries who have the right to work in safe environments that are not a threat to their lives. Western corporations which seek to benefit from the low cost of labour in countries with notoriously poor records for workplace health and safety must be held accountable when the workers that produce their products are exposed to unnecessary risks and are injured or die as a result of unsafe working conditions. Compliance with safety laws and regulations, industry standards and best practices ensures the health and safety of the workers in global supply chains,” said Joel P. Rochon, a partner at Rochon Genova LLP. “This class action aims to reaffirm one of the foremost policy goals of the Class Proceedings Act, to provide access to justice to the thousands of garment workers who were injured and to the family members of the injured and deceased.”

What some may not realize is that the workers refused to enter the Rana Plaza building on the morning of the collapse, due to a nationwide strike, and large cracks in the walls that spanned several floors that had appeared the day before.  Sohel Rana, the building’s owner, along with the factory owners physically forced them into the factory. Forty-five minutes later it collapsed.

As a result of this disaster, The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety was created. The Accord is a legally-binding agreement between brands and trade unions. Its purpose is to improve the health and safety of Bangladeshi garment factory workers.  The Accord uses inspections, reporting and corrective action plans to increase worker safety and remediate existing hazards in factories.