Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Rana Plaza Collapse at 10 Years: Brands, Bangladesh Government Must Do More


Ten years after the multi-story Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,138 workers and injuring thousands more, garment workers and their unions say that although safety has improved in some instances, much more needs to be done. And fundamental to achieving safe working conditions is ensuring workers have the freedom to form unions.

“When a trade union exists in a factory, the union committee, on behalf of the workers, can negotiate with management about the problems the workers face,” says Babul Akter, general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF).

protest, "I don't want to die for fashion"

Credit: Solidarity Center

In the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy, which came months after a factory fire at Tazreen Fashions that killed more than 100 garment workers, unions and fashion brands created the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The Accord, which covers factories producing ready-made garments, has been successful in large part because it is a legally binding agreement. Accord inspectors have conducted more than 40,000 inspections and required 513 factories to comply with remediation.

Yet with more than 4,000 garment factories and more than 4 million workers, 58 percent of them women, safety hazards remain. A series of developments have weakened implementation of the Accord, including the ejection of the Accord Foundation from its office in Bangladesh and its replacement with an employer- and brand-dominated process in which worker voice is limited. And workers seeking to form unions to improve safety and health increasingly are facing employer and government harassment and even violence. Democratic unions encounter stiff resistance from authorities when they apply for the registration required to operate legally.

“The greatest challenges exercising freedom of association is the adverse mindset of employers,” says Rashadul Alam Raju, general secretary of the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF). “Whenever workers organize, the employers try different means, including harassing and using violence against the workers, filing false legal cases against them and terminating them to prevent them from organizing. The reluctance of government bodies to address the problems is the second challenge.”

Roadblocks to Forming Unions

In 2022, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) ranked Bangladesh among the 10 worst countries in the world for working people. In the garment sector, the country’s largest industry, industrial police have obstructed and brutally attacked striking workers seeking to form unions. In 2021, police fired live rounds and used batons and tear gas to disperse workers, killing six workers and severely injuring others.

Without unions, millions of garment workers who produce clothing imported by the United States and Europe are afraid to say “No” when asked to work in unsafe jobs—the same conditions that existed at Rana Plaza. Unable to collectively negotiate higher wages, garment workers often live in poverty conditions, even as the clothing they make accounts for nearly 82 percent of Bangladesh’s exports, making the ready-made garment industry vital to the national economy.


Bangladesh, Rana Plaza, garment workers, Solidarity Center

Thousands of garment workers, like Mosammat Mukti Khatun (above, looking at the Rana Plaza rubble) who survived the Rana Plaza disaster, remain too injured or ill to work and support their families. Solidarity Center/Balmi Chisim

The day before Rana Plaza collapsed on April 24, 2013, structural engineers found cracks so severe in the building they advised that no one enter it. Yet factory managers threatened workers with the loss of a month’s pay if they did not return to work. Ultimately, building owner Mohammed Sohel Rana was arrested after trying to flee the country.

But for many of the workers who survived, the injuries they sustained were so debilitating they were unable to work again and support their families. Moriom Begum, a sewing operator at New Wave Style, one of five factories in Rana Plaza, was among many survivors whose stories the Solidarity Center chronicled over the years. Moriom remained pinned beneath furniture for two days before she was rescued. She lost her right hand, suffered constant pain and could not return to work. Yet survivors and the families of the deceased in most cases waited for years after the collapse to receive compensation.

“If there was a trade union, this incident would never have happened,” says Srity Akter, general secretary of the Garment Workers Solidarity Federation (GWSF), who spent days at the Rana Plaza site digging through rubble to rescue trapped workers. Garment workers like Srity long ago vowed #RanaPlazaNeverAgain, a phrase activists for safe factory conditions have adopted across social media and the name of site memorializing Rana Plaza workers.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the preventable Rana Plaza tragedy this month, hundreds of garment workers, trade union leaders and their allies in Bangladesh marched through the streets, and held a workers’ conference to demand an end to harassment in workplaces when workers seek to form a union, and called for reforming laws that allow systematic oppression of workers.

Brands, Bangladesh Government Must Do More

Bangladesh, Rana Plaza 2022 graphic, Solidarity CenterWhen Halima joined with her co-workers at Hop Lun Apparels Ltd., they experienced many obstacles before they successfully formed a union. Now general secretary of the Hop Lun Apparels Ltd. workers’ union and a member of Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF), Halima says workers have one of the most successful unions in the garment sector and have signed several collective bargaining agreements that have raised wages and improved safety. The contrast between working conditions at Hop Lun and Rana Plaza is stark.

Solidarity Center, working alongside partner organizations in many key garment exporting countries, are calling on governments and brands to take steps to establish an environment where all workers in the garment sector have safe, decent working conditions and earn a living wage. To attain that:

  • All fashion brands should sign the International Accord and take responsibility for the safety of workers in their supply chain.
  • The government of Bangladesh should remove barriers to trade union registration, amend the labor law to come into compliance with international standards.
  • The Bangladesh Department of Labor should uphold its responsibility to protect workers’ rights by rigorously investigating cases of unfair labor practices. It should act swiftly to prosecute employers who violate the rights of workers to freely organize, join and participate in labor organizations of their choosing and to collectively bargain. 

Says Anju, president of Jesus Fashion Shramik Union: “No organization ensures dignity like a trade union does.”

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