Rana Plaza 10 years on: ‘Stringent regulations, room for improvement’
The collapse of a dilapidated textile factory in Bangladesh in 2013 killed more than 1,100 people. Since the accident, the textile sector in Bangladesh has undergone significant transformation.
The collapse of a building that housed factories, 1,134 people dead and around 2,500 injured: almost 10 years after the Rana Plaza accident, much has changed in the textile industry in Bangladesh. Yet one thing remains unchanged: year after year, the South Asian country keeps producing more t-shirts, trousers and sweaters for the export market. A conversation with Werner Lange who coordinates the textile projects launched by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Bangladesh.
Mr Lange - could Rana Plaza happen again today?
Yes and no. Even today, one can expend criminal energy in constructing buildings that do not meet safety standards. On the whole, however, conditions have improved considerably. Some of the factories that manufacture for the export market rank among the safest in the world today.
How did this happen?
After Rana Plaza there was tremendous public pressure to improve conditions for spinners, dyers and tailors. After a lengthy and difficult process, the stakeholders, at the urging of international trade unions, agreed to a set of regulations that lay down stringent rules for the sector today. Top fashion brands, as well as the manufacturers, are now making a greater effort to adopt responsible practices. Workplace safety has improved and the people who make our garments are increasingly aware of and are asserting their rights.
To what extent has GIZ contributed to the change?
On behalf of the German Government, we have worked with more than 1,140 factories to date, which employ over 1.4 million workers. At our Women’s Cafés, almost 400,000 seamstresses have received support in exercising their rights and resolving conflicts. We have trained state labour inspectors, helped set up committees for workplace safety, and conducted training in environmentally friendly production and fire safety. We are particularly proud of the fact that we have played a role in launching an Employment Injury Insurance scheme. Since June 2022, all garment sector workers and their families are additionally protected in the event of a serious work-related injury or death.
How does all this affect the Bangladesh as a production site?
It’s only positive: Bangladesh is still the world’s second largest garment manufacturer after China. Big German brands like Tchibo, Adidas and Lidl have their garments manufactured here. The boom in the textile industry that has reached record levels continues unabated.
This is a good basis for further change. What else needs to be done?
The minimum wage is still nowhere near what is required for living in dignity. There is also the problem of extremely long working hours. The German Supply Chain Act (Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz) is likely to be followed by European regulations and laws, which will highlight the importance of human rights and environmental protection. After all, the textile and clothing industry emits more carbon dioxide than air travel and shipping together, and accounts for a third of the microplastics in the oceans. Circular economy business models are therefore the next big common challenge - for Bangladesh as well.