Anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse

Today, 24 April 2014, it’s been a year since the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh. As we mark the first anniversary of this tragedy, FWF focuses on the human factor and underlines the important connection between Building and Fire Safety and other labour standards.

Since the Rana Plaza factory collapse, there have been unprecedented cooperative efforts to improve fire and building safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry. FWF requires its own member brands to adhere to an enhanced programme for monitoring and remediation at their suppliers. This includes ensuring credible inspections and contributing to remediation of problems found, as well as a comprehensive training programme. As a first step, all factories in Bangladesh supplying FWF affiliates are required to participate in a workshop on the principles of Building and Fire Safety.

High pressure

Building safety goes beyond engineering and fire extinguishers. Managers need to understand the principles of safety before they can successfully implement safety improvements. The main function of fire doors, for example, is to keep smoke contained, allowing workers time to escape. If these fire doors are wedged open to allow faster transportation of fabric between floors, they lose their function. FWF finds such problems on a regular basis. There are solutions, such as self-closing doors, but they will only be implemented if everyone understands their function.

Building safety also requires changes in the way brands do business with their suppliers. High pressure on production deadlines, unreasonably low prices and unpredictable orders all inhibit adequate investment in safe buildings. These pressures also encourage unsafe practices, like propping open the fire doors to shave a few minutes off production time. The pressures that lead to poor safety also contribute to a host of other labour violations, such as extremely low wages and widespread sexual harassment on the factory floor.

An example of how a hostile work environment can affect safety was recently reported, when women and men used separate emergency exits during a fire drill, rather than taking the nearest exit: during previous fire drills, women had been groped by male coworkers as they were trying to exit the building.

Fire drills

FWF continues to focus on improving working conditions, including building safety. Together with its local partners and its member brands FWF develops approaches that focus on how supply chain relations affect factory conditions.

Marking one year since the Rana Plaza disaster, FWF’s thoughts go out to everyone who lost a relative, a friend or a colleague, and to those who were injured on that day. One of them is garment worker Firoz Hossen. FWF talked to him in Savar during a recent visit to Bangladesh. He spoke about how he’s not able to erase the image of his dying and wounded colleagues in Rana Plaza. “I can’t handle fire drills. I already run out before it starts.” Read the whole interview here.

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