Marking two years since the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, protesters are converging on the country's capital and feminist actions are sweeping the globe on Friday, to honor the lives of the 1,138 people—most of them women—who perished in the tragedy and to demand justice for those they left behind.
News outlets are reporting that demonstrators have gathered in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, the city where the Rana Plaza factory was located. Among them are survivors of the tragedy and family members of the deceased, who say that, two years later, they still have not received adequate compensation.
"I haven’t received any compensation from the government yet," Nilufar Begum, a worker wounded in the factory collapse, told Euronews. "I can’t support my family, my children can’t go to school. I’m crippled forever."
Meanwhile, feminist actions are slated for time zones across the world, from Kenya to Turkey to the Philippines to the United States.
"We make the cloth, we make our economy,” said Salima Sultana, a member of the Bangladesh chapter of World March of Women, which is organizing the coordinated actions alongside Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. "We march to pressure the garments owners and buyers to improve the health and environment for women workers, and to increase benefits/ better wages for them. Without movement nothing can change in our lives."
The April 24, 2013 collapse of the nine-story factory building is believed to be the worst single tragedy in the history of the world's garment industry. Workers were forced to enter the factory, despite their concerns over large, visible cracks in the walls. Most of the people killed in the subsequent collapse were young women, in a national garment industry where an estimated 80 percent of workers are women from rural areas.
"Without movement nothing can changes in our lives."
—Salima Sultana, World March of Women-BangladeshThe disaster sparked record worker protests and shined a global spotlight on the dangerous conditions, abuse, and retaliation rampant throughout the industry. It also exposed the complicity of numerous Western retail corporations and labels, including Walmart, The Children’s Place, Benetton, Zara, and Mango that specifically did business with the Rana Plaza factory.
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But despite the global outcry, garment workers in Bangladesh continue to endure "poor working conditions and anti-union tactics by employers including assaults on union organizers," Human Rights Watch revealed in a report released this week.
Furthermore, The Children's Place last month arrested over 27 people who attempted to deliver a petition to the company's headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey to demand fair compensation for wounded workers, and surviving family members—including children orphaned by the disaster.
Many of the feminist actions taking place in the U.S. on Friday will target retailers that did business with the Rana Plaza factory, including The North Face, which along with The Children's Place has refused to join the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
Protesters said they were emboldened by the fresh revelation that, in response to international grassroots pressure, The Children's Place has wired over $2 million to the Rana Plaza Trust Fund for victims of the disaster and their families.
Emily Lee, co-chair of the U.S. Chapter of the World March of Women, heralded this development as "the direct result of worker solidarity between workers in Bangladesh, Mozambique, Brazil, the Philippines, the U.S., and Europe." Lee added, "We will continue to keep up the pressure until Zara, Walmart, and others contribute to reach the $30 million goal so that Rana Plaza families and survivors are compensated for their tragic loss,"
The San Antonio, Texas-based organization La Fuerza Unida, which was created in 1990 when Levi Strauss shuttered factories in the city without adequate severance pay and is led by women garment workers, is among the U.S. groups taking action on Friday.
Jessica Guerrero, a staffer for the organization, told Common Dreams that the garment workers she works with are taking action because they know, "It is most often women, and women of color, that are affected by this huge industry that does everything for the consumer and each other and nothing for the workers that sustain the whole machine. It is important to work towards ending injustice."