Labour MP Rushanara Ali: ‘Rana Plaza was a man-made disaster’
Published : 24 Apr 2018, 12:21:18
Five years after the Rana Plaza disaster, Labour MP Rushanara Ali has described what happened as “not an accident” but “a man-made disaster”.
Speaking at a panel debate at the Houses of Parliament focused on improvements for women workers in the fashion industry, five years on from Rana Plaza, the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow said that pay had become “the elephant in the room”, and directed the majority of her criticism towards fashion brands using factories and buildings such as Rana Plaza. “Considering the profits these companies are making, they are paying workers a pittance” she said. “We have to pay more, and brands have to pay more.” Despite “improvements”, workers in Bangladesh are paid less than $68 (£48) a month, less than half their counterparts in Vietnam.
More than 1,100 people died and and 2,000 were injured on 24 April 2013 when a building in Savar, an industrial suburb of the capital, Dhaka, collapsed. It is widely considered to be the deadliest unintended structural failure of modern times. Although the building was used by various companies including banks, the majority of victims were workers making garments for sale on western high streets.
The tragedy led to the implementation of the accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh, an independent agreement between brands and unions designed to protect workers. The accord is up for renewal, with reviews to take place to assess whether the Bangladeshi government is ready to take over its work. In the run-up to the renewal, Ali described the improvements and prognosis as “mixed”. According to Brac, an international development organisation based in Bangladesh, the exact number of factories that actually fell under the accord was unknown.
Ali also highlighted issues surrounding the unionising of workers: “it is risky for an individual to be seen to be forming a union,” she said. Another panellist, Sarah Ashwin, professor of comparative employment relations at the London School of Economics, suggested that “had they [workers at Rana Plaza] had a trade union, they would not have gone in [to work]”. Large cracks had appeared on the building the day before the disaster, and the workers did not want to go inside. Global trade unions have called it “mass industrial homicide”.
The Labour MP expressed concerns over companies moving work from one country to another that is yet to be under the spotlight. “Boycotting [things] will make matters worse,” she said. The discussion also focused on the poverty of women. MP Mary Creagh, who hosted the panel, said: “The majority of the victims in the Rana Plaza disaster were women. 80% of the world’s 75 million garment workers are women. We will be looking at the improvements and challenges they face, and asking whether the fashion industry has cleaned up its act.” Ali added: “We need to focus on the rights agenda as much as we do on economic empowerment to get results. We have a female PM and I’d like to see us use our leadership globally.”-The Guardian