AUTHORITIES appear to be unmoved even on the sixth anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse when labour organisations, victims and affected families still cry for justice. After the collapse, reports revealed the nature of systemic negligence and disregard for worker safety in the five factories housed in the nine-storey building at Savar. Building code violations were detected which implied complicity of the local administration in the approval of the building on marshy land. Workers on the day were forced to enter the building already known to be risky, yet there has been no progress in ensuring justice for the victims six years later. Fourteen cases filed, including 11 with the labour court, have all been stalled in various stages of trial. All the accused but the building owner is in custody. In one case, charges were framed in July 2016, but no deposition could be recorded in about three years as the government officials indicted had a stay on the trial process and the public prosecutors did not feel the urgency to appeal against the stay order. The government appears to have resorted to the habitual deployment of legal bureaucracy to defer and interrupt the process of ensuring justice.
Survivors, meanwhile, are in need of justice on a few fronts. They not only talked about justice in the form of conviction but also of rightful compensation, rehabilitation of the injured and an amendment to compensation clauses in the labour law. According to an ActionAid report, more than 74 per cent of the injured still suffering from physical ailments are in need of psychosocial support. A lack of context-specific institutional structure of trauma and disaster management for survivors to seek help left the workers suffering without long-term support. The government has so far been depended on project-based, short-term initiatives of non-governmental organisations which proved inadequate, ill-equipped and unsustainable. It is, however, true that as for structural safety in the apparel industry, stakeholders, including global buyers, local factory owners and rights organisations, have achieved much progress. Two buyers’ platform, Accord and Alliance, conducted structural, fire and electrical safety inspection in more than 2,300 factories. The government with International Labour Organisation support launched an inspection of the rest of the factories that were not on Alliance and Accord lists. As all these programmes are time-bound, dependent on hired expertise and they ignored the issue of building local institutional capacity to systematically monitor the remedial process, rights activists are concerned whether these initiatives will leave any long-lasting impact on the sector.
For a continued growth of the apparel industry, the ultimate goal should be to prevent any such occurrences but there still should be a system within the government, involving stakeholders mandated to resolve compensation issues and monitor rehabilitation. The government must amend the compensation clause keeping to the ILO’s workplace compensation matrix. Without further delay, the prosecution must also look for ways to undo the legal deadlock to begin deposition. Justice in all forms must be ensured for the victims.
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