Remembering Rana Plaza

Today I revisited the Rana Plaza factory site where the eight-story building collapsed two years ago, horrifically killing 1,138 workers and seriously injuring more than 2,500 others.  The site has not changed much since I came here in 2013, a month after the collapse.  You can still find spools of thread, fabric, the occasional lost scarf or shoe, and remnants of the Joe Fresh jeans, which were being produced for JC Penney and Loblaw’s at the time.  Most of the building has been demolished, but the rubble remains.  In the center, a rain puddle has become a pond with an unnatural green hue and algae growing around the edges.  

Thousands of injured workers and the families of the deceased gathered at the site today, along with many labor organizers and activists, all of them protesting the missing compensation funds.  In response to sustained campaigning, which many of you helped with, Children's Place paid in to the Rana Plaza Trust Fund today, bringing its total contribution to $2.5 million. $3 million more is still needed from apparel brands to complete the $30 million Rana Plaza Trust Fund, which is being coordinated by the International Labour Organization.  ILRF and our allies are still campaigning hard today to get the word out about the gap in the fund and to continue the pressure on the apparel brands that have so far done too little. Today, as part of the Global Day of Action: Remembering Rana Plaza, demonstrations are being held at Benetton, JC Penney, Mango, Walmart and Zara stores. 

I went to Rana Plaza with a delegation of civic leaders and human rights experts -- a group that includes five Americans, a Kenyan and a Filipina.  We joined a protest organized by the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) and the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) and got caught up in a cacophony of competing protests.  We joined in the chants led by BGIWF and BCWS, which had come equipped with their own loud speaker and microphone, just like so many other groups had done.  

Families holding up photos of loved ones

Two things stood out starkly today:  

First, the haunting expressions of fear and sadness – almost every survivor we talked to said they are worried about how they will survive.  They still have no clear answer about how the authorities determined the amount they should receive and when it is they can expect to receive final payments.  Meanwhile a recent ActionAid survey confirmed that 61% of workers require continuing medical treatments, which at an average of $20 a month will quickly eat through the compensation funds. 

Second, there was a tremendous lack of coordination around the memorial.  The survivors came to the site for the memorial, but government representatives did not – except for the several dozen police officers in riot gear.  The various activist groups who came carried on their competing speeches and chants for several hours, with speeches seeming to get louder by the hour.

Despite all the chaos, however, there were many who stood in stoic silence, clutching the picture of their lost loved one.  They motioned for me to take their picture, seeming to think if somehow they could be seen that their plea for help might be heard. 

Our PAY UP campaign fight thus continues, especially as we witness how much more needs to be done to ensure workers receive adequate information and support. 

Thank you to all who took action during the past two years to urge Children's Place to pay up, and to everyone who is participating today in the Global Day of Action. Please make sure to share photos from your actions on the day of action facebook event page and share messages of solidarity on twitter using the #RanaPlaza hashtag.

Correction: A previous version of this blog stated: "Meanwhile a recent ActionAid survey confirmed that 61% of workers require continuing medical treatments, which at an average of $200 a month will quickly eat through the compensation funds." The corrected figure is "$20 a month.