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Three Years After Global Garment Industry's Worst Disaster, 38 Indicted for Murder

Over 1,100 people died when Rana Plaza garment factory building collapsed near Dhaka

Human rights campaigners stage a demonstration in London in 2014 to call on retailers to pay up outstanding compensation to victims of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, and to ensure better safety in their Bangladeshi factories. (Photo: Trades Union Congress/flickr/cc)

More than three years after the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building near Dhaka killed over 1,100 people, a Bangladesh court on Monday formally charged 38 people with murder for their role in the catastrophe.

It's been described as the worst disaster in the global garment industry's history.

Thirty-five of those charged—including building owner Sohel Rana—appeared in court on Monday and pleaded not guilty, Reuters reports.

In addition to those charged with murder, three other people were charged with helping Rana flee.

As NPR reported, "Rana Plaza collapsed on April 24, 2013, with hundreds of workers inside. Survivors say workers were forced to go inside the building, even though a visible crack was forming."

"Tragically," Michelle Chen wrote at In These Times in the wake of the disaster, "it took the scale of the carnage at Rana Plaza to shine light on a barely regulated industry known for treating its Global South workforce—which profits from vast numbers of rural migrant women workers with few other job options—as disposable tools."

As Common Dreams has noted, it also "shined a global spotlight on the complicity of U.S.- and Europe-headquartered corporations," while Joe Westby, corporate campaigner at Amnesty International, wrote that "the images of dead workers in the debris of the collapsed factory have become powerful symbols of the pursuit of profit at the expense of people."

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There have been some improvements in labor conditions in the years since the disaster, Thulsi Narayanasamy, senior international programs officer at War on Want, wrote, such as "The Bangladesh Safety Accord [which] marked the first step towards holding garment companies to account for the working conditions in their supply chains, and [the fact that] now it is no longer contested that the brands are responsible for the human rights abuses that workers face."

In addition, she continued, "it is finally accepted that ... The system is at fault and stacked in favor of the brands: profits come before people."

Yet, she argued, "global garment brands continue to profit from exploitation of workers in Bangladesh."

"Three years on," she wrote, "workers are still forced to work 14-16 hours a day, six days a week, face routine abuse in the workplace, and all for poverty wages that aren't enough to pay rent in a slum or provide three meals a day."

Further, as Chen wrote at The Nation in April, "The disaster sparked a spate of reforms to facilitate the creation of new trade unions. But implementation has been systematically hampered by rampant union busting, including excessively strict registration procedures, violent suppression, and the shuttering of factories after workers manage to unionize."

The trial is set to begin Sept. 18.

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