Five years since Rana Plaza, workers injured at the job in Bangladesh still face insecurity and dire poverty

published 08-10-2018 06:00, last modified 07-10-2018 11:06
The deadly Rana Plaza collapse of 2013, killing at least 1,134 workers making clothes for Western markets, was the largest, but not the last factory incident in Bangladesh. Five years ago today, only six months after the horrific Rana Plaza tragedy, seven workers died and over fifty were injured in a fire in the Aswad Composite Textile Mill. While a world-wide campaign began to ensure compensation for the families of the Rana Plaza workers, the families affected by the Aswad fire were left with nothing, and have yet to receive a single penny in compensation. Devastatingly, the Aswad fire victims’ families are not alone - since the Rana Plaza collapse, over 540 workers have been killed and injured in factory incidents in Bangladesh. On the fifth anniversary of the Aswad factory fire, Clean Clothes Campaign calls upon the Bangladesh government and others involved in the industry to finally create a national employment injury insurance scheme that would cover all workers in Bangladesh.

While factory safety has greatly improved in Bangladesh over the last five years, factory incidents still happen. The workers and families affected by these incidents face similar debt and grief as those affected by the Rana Plaza collapse, but lack an international campaign coming to their aid. Dire situations like the one the Aswad survivors are experiencing can only be solved by a national employment injury insurance scheme that covers all workers from a fund which is contributed to by all employers.

In 2015 the government of Bangladesh committed to work on such a scheme with the support of the International Labour Organization. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina in 2017 furthermore reiterated her resolution to bring an employment injury insurance scheme to Bangladesh as a sustainable solution to address the issue of compensation after workplace incidents. Three years since the initial commitment, however, the progress on the side of the government of Bangladesh, which should table and implement the legislation, is limited.

Bangladeshi labour rights activist Kalpona Akter says: “All these disasters we have seen, with difficult compensation process and only limited options for compensation in Bangladesh labour law, show how much we need a national employment injury insurance scheme. Union federations and workers’ rights organizations in Bangladesh demand that the government pass legislation to make this possible and to make a national employment injury insurance scheme operational as soon as possible.”

Current proposals to address compensation for workers injured in the workplace through Bangladesh labour law are insufficient to systematically address these workers' plight and do not bring Bangladesh any closer to the international standards in the field of workplace injury. These standards are enshrined in ILO Convention 121 on employment injury benefits, which Bangladesh has not ratified. Doing so would be a welcome step. The implementation of an employment injury insurance scheme for workers of the garment industry should bring them and eventually all workers up to internationally accepted levels of social protection.

Ben Vanpeperstraete, lobby and advocacy coordinator at Clean Clothes campaign says: “Over 130 countries in the world cover employment injury as part of their social security system, but Bangladesh is not one of them, although the scheme is affordable. Contribution to a national employment injury insurance scheme would amount to about 0.005% of the retail price of a garment. Employers would have to contribute about 0.3% of the wage sum. International buying brands should support this by factoring these costs into their pricing with factories. Less than the price of a basic t-shirt per year could insure a worker against insecurity and the worst forms of poverty after a workplace tragedy.

Support for an employment injury insurance scheme is considerable, also among garment brands. At an international meeting in the presence of the government of Bangladesh in June this year, major garment brands publicly expressed their support for the scheme, which would improve Bangladesh’ image as investment market. More brands should indicate that they will reflect the minor emerging costs in their purchasing practices.

On this sad anniversary, Clean Clothes Campaign calls upon the government of Bangladesh to table legislation for an employment injury insurance scheme; to put in place a bridging solution to cover workers injured in workplace incidents in the last five years, which can serve as a pilot for the eventual scheme; and to start implementing a functioning system in 2019.

Ben Vanpeperstraete says: “We believe that the establishment of a national employment injury insurance scheme and a bridging solution would be the realization of one of the major lessons learned after the Rana Plaza collapse and end the insecurity and dire poverty of the workers that were killed and injured at the workplace in the five years since the collapse.”