This article first appeared in our Earth Day 2023 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 22 April 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
While we like to use Earth Day to reflect on the last year and progress made in the fashion industry, we also take time to think about another very important anniversary.
24 April 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, where a building collapsed and at least 1,134 people lost their lives.
It was the worst industrial incident to hit the garment industry, and a story every single person who has ever bought clothing should know.
For this Earth Day article we’re going to look back at what’s happened over the last 10 years; what have we learned – and have we come far enough to safely say a tragedy like this will never happen again?
The Rana Plaza disaster was the culmination of many industry issues. First and foremost, the Global North’s incessant demand for clothing created an overexerted and exploited workforce, neglect for the conditions in which garment-makers work and corruption of the authorities and people in charge.
In the aftermath of the disaster, victims and their families received financial and medical support; Primark, with a supplier in Rana Plaza, was among the first brands that paid compensation to the victims. But 10 years on, what has actually changed?
First came the Bangladesh Accord – a legally binding agreement that brands were encouraged to sign. Signatories had to disclose all factories used, and the factories’ building safety standards – including electrical, structural and fire safety – had to be inspected and approved.
Over 200 brands signed the pledge and many factories were closed down as a result.
Over the next few years many inspections took place; they revealed that some high-street retailers lagged behind and continued to show little progress in the building safety regulations.
Issues continued throughout 2017 and 2018 when the Transition Accord was pitched. Many brands stated that safety oversight was no longer required, yet numerous factory fires suggested otherwise.
In 2021 a new agreement replaced the old one, with updated obligations expanding to general health and safety and human rights due diligence throughout the supply chain, with these same commitments to be made in at least one other country.
Yet again, certain brands required pressure from the public and media before adding their signatures to the new accord.
Still today, signatures are missing from major retailers such as Abercrombie, Amazon, ASDA, Disney, GAP and Levi’s.
So all in all, have we moved forward? There’s been movement in the right direction; those of us intent on changing the industry are more mobilised and unified than ever before, and we think social media will continue to play a big part in this – especially in expanding awareness and growing the community.
We have the Clean Clothes Campaign, Fashion Revolution, Labour Behind the Label, The OR Foundation, Slow Factory, Remake and many other organisations doing great work in holding the industry to account, and striving for positive change in many different ways.
But still now we have reports of exploitation in Leicester, unacceptable working conditions at warehouses in Burnley and violations of living wages in the UK.
Overseas, abuse and murder have been alleged in a garment factory in India and sexual harassment and sextortion in Haiti and Lesotho. There are accounts of factory owners locking
garment workers inside factories and union-busting during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Is the industry – plus governments across the world – doing enough to ensure we can confidently say Rana Plaza will never happen again? No.
So let’s get to work, and use this Earth Day to look out for people and planet – because there’s still plenty of work left to do.
Click here to check which brands have signed The International Safety Accord.