Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The deadly human cost of capitalism and the corporate fashion industry

all the images on this page are by Ismail Ferdous

On the 24th April 2013, the eight storey Rana Plaza Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,138 people and injuring another 2,500. One hundred and forty workers are still unaccounted for. 

The building housed 5 garment factories where poorly paid Bangladeshi workers made clothing for wealthy and high profile Western clothing labels. 

The Rana Plaza collapse was the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry and the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history.

The Rana Plaza collapse exposed the underbelly of high profile western fashion corporations who are key players in a supply chain in which Bangladeshi workers are paid a pittance and forced to work in unsafe and deadly sweatshop factories making clothing for western markets.

Rebecca Prentice explores the causes of the disaster in this article, pointing the finger directly at the inner workings of the global capitalist economy:
We might ask ourselves whether the disaster at Rana Plaza is the natural outcropping of a system we have created: a complex array of arms-length relationships between retailers and suppliers; working conditions hidden by both the intricacies of the global supply chain and its geographic dispersal; a regulatory regime comprised largely of voluntary compliance with ethical codes set by multinational corporations; and a lack of protections for labour organisers in low-income countries. 
The collapse sparked record worker protests and exposed the rampant abuse, dangerous conditions, and retaliation for organizing faced by Bangladesh's estimated 4 million garment workers, 80 percent of whom are women from rural areas.

On the day of the collapse the Bangladeshi photojournalist Ismail Ferdous was in Dhaka and took these haunting and chilling images of the collapse and its aftermath. 
Ferdous's work features in this short documentary

His images pay tribute to those who died, as well as those who worked to free people from the rubble. Ferdous also photographed clothing labels in the rubble that show the direct connection between high profile fashion labels and the deaths in the collapse.

Progress in identifying missing workers is painfully slow and the owner of the building has yet to be charged by police. Protests in Dhaka this week highlighted a whole series of grievances and unresolved issues for the families of those who died in the collapse.

Families who lost loved ones and bread winners have received little or no compensation from a trust fund set up by the Western retailers whose clothes were made at the factory. 

The fund contains only $15m compared to the proposed $40m, as only half of the western retailers have deposited funds. The first payments of $640 for each of the survivors and families of the deceased were only made this week.

A list of the corporations who have made no contribution to the fund is here.

Attempts to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord – a legally binding contract between brands, retailers and trade unions in Bangladesh that makes independent safety inspections of 1,000 factories and public reporting mandatory, has been hindered by ideological differences and the decision by some large brands to sign separate, less stringent agreements.

Alexandra Hartman writes:
International corporations have barely been impacted by the fallout. In fact, some of shareholders' prices for certain implicated companies rose just months after the collapse. So far, corporations' responses have been a patchwork of safety reviews and public statements with little bold effort done to right any wrongs and compensate losses. And consumers, in large part, have forgotten.
Here is Humayun Kabir of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative:
"Very little has actually been done to change the situation that led to the disaster a year ago. There have been a lot of people struggling to get compensation for victims and trying to change business practices of international buyers and practices of factory owners. One of the ways we can keep these issues on the agenda is by saying that this disaster that happened is not a distant memory. We shouldn't forget about it."

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