Ten Years After Rana Plaza, How Has It Impacted the Industry?

young women in colorful head scarves sit behind sewing machines in a Bangladesh garment factory - ten years rana plaza
Solidarity Center, Creative Commons License

Ten Years After Rana Plaza: A Wake-up Call for Ethical Fashion

The Savar Building Collapse at Rana Plaza in 2013 was a tragic event that shook the global garment industry to its core. Ten years later, how has Rana Plaza impacted the ethical fashion movement?

The collapse exposed the harsh realities faced by thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh, highlighting the urgent need for improved safety measures. In response, the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord was formed, uniting stakeholders to enhance workplace safety.

In this article, we will delve into the details of the Savar Building Collapse, explore the impact of the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord on the garment industry, and discuss the profound implications for sustainable and ethical fashion. Additionally, we will emphasize the importance of consumer action in driving further positive change.

The Savar Building Collapse and Its Aftermath

On April 24, 2013, the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh, claimed the lives of over 1,100 workers and left thousands injured.

The building housed several garment factories supplying clothing to major global brands. This catastrophic event shed light on the hazardous working conditions, structural deficiencies, and inadequate safety measures prevalent in Bangladesh’s garment industry.

It also led to questions about the safety of garment factories in other parts of the world.

Fashion Revolution protesters hold signs that say "Who made my clothes?" - ten years rana plaza
Fashion Revolution protesters. Copyright greensefa, Creative Commons License

The Birth of the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord

In response to the tragedy, international labor unions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and major brands joined forces to address the urgent need for safety reforms. The result was the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord, a landmark agreement signed in May 2013. This accord aimed to improve fire, electrical, and structural safety in garment factories across Bangladesh.

Under the accord, signatory brands committed to providing financial support for factory inspections, safety training, and necessary renovations. The agreement established a robust system of independent inspections conducted by qualified experts to ensure compliance with safety standards.

Importantly, it included provisions for worker involvement, empowering them to report safety concerns and refuse unsafe work.

The Impact on the Garment Industry

The Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord has had a profound impact on the garment industry, particularly in terms of sustainability and ethics.

Firstly, it has driven significant improvements in factory safety. Thousands of inspections have been conducted, identifying numerous safety hazards and compelling factories to address them. Crucial renovations, such as the installation of fire exits, improvements in electrical wiring, and reinforcement of building structures, have been implemented in many factories.

Secondly, the accord has fostered transparency and accountability throughout the industry. Brands are now held responsible for the conditions within their supply chains, leading to a more comprehensive approach to social compliance.

By promoting collaboration between brands, factories, and worker representatives, the accord has facilitated constructive dialogue and collective problem-solving.

Moreover, the tragedy of Rana Plaza and initiatives like the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord have sparked a global wave of awareness among consumers.

Conscious consumerism has become a powerful force, with individuals demanding greater transparency and ethical practices from the brands they support. This shift in consumer behavior has incentivized brands to prioritize worker safety, environmental sustainability, and ethical sourcing practices.

woman wears mask and sits behind industrial machine in garment factory - ten years rana plaza
Copyright ILO Asia-Pacific, Creative Commons License

Challenges and the Path Forward

Despite significant progress, the journey towards comprehensive safety reform and sustainable and ethical fashion in the garment industry continues.

The Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord has faced criticism for its limited scope, as it primarily focuses on fire and structural safety, while neglecting other crucial aspects such as worker rights, fair wages, and freedom of association. Efforts to expand the accord’s mandate have met with varying degrees of success, highlighting the need for ongoing collaboration and advocacy.

In 2019, the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) was established in Bangladesh as a more permanent replacement for the Accord (which expired that year). However, stakeholders have argued that RSC lacks the transparency and enforcement of the Accord, making it a poor replacement.

In 2021, the Bangladesh Accord was expanded to include more countries, under the umbrella of the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry.

This Accord – which is now active – covers Bangladesh and global manufacturing hubs. But it relies on buy-in from corporations before it can be enforced. Adoption has been slow in some cases. As of April 2023, 195 brands have signed on in Bangladesh and 45 are members in Pakistan.

To achieve a truly sustainable and ethical fashion industry, stakeholders must work together to address the broader challenges. This includes implementing fair and living wages, ensuring safe working conditions beyond structural safety, promoting worker empowerment, and respecting human rights throughout the supply chain.

Brands and consumers must remain vigilant, holding each other accountable and supporting initiatives that prioritize the well-being of garment workers and environmental stewardship.

shelves of folded clothes

Call to Action

As conscious consumers, we have the power to shape the future of the garment industry. By making informed purchasing decisions and supporting brands that prioritize sustainability and ethical practices, we can contribute to positive change. Here’s what we can do:

  1. Educate ourselves: Learn about the issues surrounding the garment industry, including labor rights, environmental impact, and supply chain transparency.
  2. Support sustainable and ethical brands: Choose brands that prioritize fair wages, safe working conditions, and environmental sustainability. Look for certifications such as Fair Trade, GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), or B Corp.
  3. Ask questions and demand transparency: Contact brands directly and inquire about their supply chain practices. Support initiatives that promote transparency and accountability.
  4. Extend the lifecycle of clothing: Practice mindful consumption by repairing, reusing, and recycling garments. Embrace sustainable fashion choices, such as buying second-hand or renting clothing.
  5. Advocate for change: Join or support organizations advocating for workers’ rights and sustainable fashion. Participate in campaigns that push for legislative reforms and improved industry standards.

In conclusion, the Savar Building Collapse and the subsequent establishment of the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord have played a crucial role in transforming the garment industry.

To continue this positive trajectory, it is essential that we, as consumers, remain committed to sustainable and ethical fashion, demanding transparency, and supporting brands that prioritize the well-being of workers and the planet.

Together, we can create a fashion industry that is truly sustainable, ethical, and respectful of human dignity.

Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for caring for the Rana Plaza victims. Just so you know, the owner of the buildings/ factories was acquitted of all charges recently and is free to do whatever he wants. He never had to any price for the murder of so many. The Birth of the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord means nothing, it was created just so the government and its depraved accomplices can continue to do whatever they’ve been doing all along. There have been other fires in Bangladesh since Rana Plaza.

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