THE collapse of Rana Plaza, said to be the worst-ever ‘industrial accident’, left 1,133 dead and thousand more wounded and incapacitated. The collapse exposed the extent of negligence to and disregard for worker rights in the apparel industry. Citizens across the world held protests and challenged the system of indifference in the global supply chain. In the face of protest and constant media coverage, global buyers and national stakeholders promised financial assistance for the rehabilitation of the survivors and families of the deceased workers. Individual citizens and brands initially contributed to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund an another fund was set up later to which global buyers contributed from their corporate social responsibility funds. Funds alone, however, cannot address socio-economic and psychological effects on injured survivors. On the occasion of the sixth anniversary of the disaster, ActionAid surveyed survivors and said that 74 per cent of them still suffer from various physical problems and 27 per cent carry signs of psychological weakness. As a result, 51 per cent of the survivors are still without job and they continue to struggle. The agony of the workers seriously questions the effectiveness of the rehabilitation initiatives that the government and non-governmental stakeholders took.
Media on various occasions reported a declining health of injured workers. The survey findings also support this claim in that workers with declining health show symptoms of chronic headache, back pain and post-traumatic stress. It is evident that financial assistance without psychosocial support will not address the multi-layered sufferings of the survivors. Some labour rights activists have blamed the lack of context-specific institutional structure of trauma and disaster management that could benefit the survivors. The collapse of Rana Plaza is not the first such incident in which apparel workers lost lives in factory. In 2005, in a similar ‘industrial disaster’, a multi-storey apparel factory at Savar collapsed, leaving at least 64 dead. After each building collapse or fire, the disaster is managed on an ad hoc basis. While it is true that the ultimate goal should be to prevent any such occurrences, there still should be a system involving relevant stakeholders to resolve compensation issues and to monitor rehabilitation programmes. The government has so far been dependent on project-based, short-term initiatives of non-governmental organisations which have proved inadequate, ill-equipped and unsustainable.
The magnitude of losses and suffering from the Rana Plaza collapse prompted a continued public and media attention on the event that survivor stories and their reality are still reported. However, there are numerous other cases of ‘industrial accidents’ with relatively lesser number of casualties where survivors or families of deceased workers barely get any support. Incidents of fire at a match factory or rice mills in recent years have taken lives of many workers and their compensation claims or issues of economic survival have remained unresolved. The government must, therefore, consider an agency especially mandated to handle worker concerns in post-industrial disaster situation to sustainably provide legal, psychological and economic supports for workers.
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