One year after the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing nearly 1,200 and injuring over two and half thousand workers, the issue of compensation still remains unclear.
ActionAid provided emergency relief in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and is now part of a campaign to demand fair compensation for the survivors and families of those who died.
I caught up with Farah Kabir, ActionAid’s Country Director in Bangladesh to find out how survivors are coping, what’s happening with compensation and what companies and governments need to do now.
1. What is the latest situation regarding compensation?
It’s been a year since the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh and the survivors still have not received the compensation they deserve. The only thing that has happened is that two or three companies have given around an average £150 to workers as short term immediate support.
‘Pocket money’ is not a compensation package and it’s offensive that some multinational companies think that small, sporadic cash handouts are the same as a lifetime’s earnings.
What survivors want is long term compensation that will support their needs for ten to fifteen years or more, depending on their ability to work.
While we have now heard that the compensation package has been almost finalised, we will have to wait and see until it’s rolled out and every one of the survivors has received it, exactly how generous it is.
2. Why is agreeing a compensation package taking so long?
One reason is the lack of willingness to take responsibility. We have seen the international retailers and local manufactures drag their feet on this issue so it’s taken a lot of pressure from trade unions. There have been high court decisions on what should be acceptable compensation but this has still not met the expectations of the survivors and their families.
3. How are the victims and their families coping?
The victims and the survivors are coping with a lot of difficulty. Those who have experienced this accident are very traumatised. Some of them have gone back to work but a lot have found it difficult. They’re falling deeper into debt and they are struggling. And the families of the 1,200 workers who died have not been able to identify the bodies. The DNA results have been very slow in coming and they can’t bury their loved ones. They are not able to get closure.
4. Can you tell us about the physical and psychological problems victims are still facing one year on? What help are they getting?
A lot people who suffered severe physical injuries in Rana Plaza had to be given immediate treatment. They were hospitalised and are undergoing treatment at the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed. But individuals who suffered trauma, psychological, emotional distress, they are struggling because we do not have systematic psychosocial care in Bangladesh.
5. What about the orphans? What’s life like for them?
There are a lot of children who lost one or two parents. The apex body of the garments sector has supported some of the survivors and organisations like ActionAid or individuals have helped some of the children. Plus immediate support came from their extended families, but they are of course not receiving any financial support.
6. ActionAid helped a young woman called Nazma have her baby. Can you give us an update on her?
We are very pleased that we were able to help Nazma who is a survivor from Rana Plaza when she was pregnant. We have managed to keep in touch with her and support her through pre and post-delivery. She now has a son and she’s naming her son after the husband she lost in the building collapse. They are both doing well and we intend to continue with this relationship as much as possible.
7. What do you think companies need to do now?
Companies have to come forward and take responsibility because they have enjoyed a profit for a long time. They came to Bangladesh to work with the garment workers and the garment sector because it was very profitable. Now we have had the unfortunate incidences of Rana Plaza and the Gazipur fire, they need to pay attention and take responsibility. There’s a lot of talk about building standards and compliance but they also need to think about transportation for the workers, about housing and about medical insurance as well as salaries.
8. What do governments need to do? Both the Bangladesh government and globally?
The Bangladesh government needs to ensure that building standards are complied with, that enough building inspectors are in place and when the inspectors report back there is action. It should not just be a paper exercise. The government needs to show and demonstrate political will. They need to ensure the provision of minimum wages and show they are willing to improve standards. I also think all governments from from where companies have come need to question their companies. There needs to be more responsibility from the corporate sector. We understand that they must make a profit but where is the responsibility? So we want to see social responsibility. And governments in those countries where the retailers are coming from should hold their companies responsible.
9. What should people in the UK do, who buy clothes from companies operating inside Bangladesh?
It is very important that the customers in the UK understand that boycotting is not the answer, because the readymade garment sector gives employment to almost four million women and therefore it’s important that the factories and the sector is strong, surviving and growing. What the individual customers can do is at least for a minute think when they are buying something so cheap, how is this possible? And whether the companies are providing the required support to the workers. They can lobby with their own companies and they can lobby with their own government, so if you are in the UK the best thing you can do is go and talk to the companies and ask your government to please ensure minimum standards. You have minimum standards in the UK, why should there not be minimum standards in Bangladesh? Why should there be double standards internationally?
10. What’s happening with the Bangladesh Safety Accord? Who has signed it?
There has been a lot of discussion. International governments and retailers are pushing on the safety accord. But there is hesitance from local manufacturers because they feel that they can’t immediately meet those standards. A lot of the factories would have to close down, so the Trade Unions want the safety accord but not at that cost of factories. We cannot have a measure which is going to put the workers back on the streets and back into poverty, so this has to be phased in, it has to be planned in a proper way so that workers are benefitting. It cannot be just an exercise about building and iron and steel.
Photo: Nicola Bailey/ActionAid