Rana Plaza: Ten years on

By Philippe Lafortune, animator for Central and Southern Quebec

On the morning of April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza building on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, trapping over 5,000 workers in the garment sweatshops that it housed. Under the rubble, some 1,134 people died and 2,581 were injured. Most of the victims were women.

This disaster epitomizes all that is wrong with and undesirable about the discount fast fashion industry in terms of inhumane working conditions and environmental pollution, which are as unacceptable as they are avoidable.

A decade on

At noon on Monday, April 24, a national rally will congregate at Phillips Square in Montreal to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster and to demand respect for human rights and the environment, including through the adoption of strong corporate due diligence legislation.

Since 2021, the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability and members of Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada have collected over 40,000 signatures and met over 40 Members of Parliament (MPs) to advocate for laws to prevent overseas abuses of human, labour and ecological rights by Canadian corporations and their suppliers and subcontractors. It is matter of common sense, ethics, justice and responsibility―individual and corporate.

An old fight

Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada has been working for human dignity for over 55 years. Nearly 30 years ago, our People First campaign had denounced deplorable working conditions in the sweatshops where our clothes are made. Our members and supporters across the country had written to fashion giants like Levi Strauss and Nike to demand that they enforce stronger codes of conduct and labour ethics.

The demands have remained the same: decent wages; safe working conditions; the freedom to unionize to defend rights; and companies’ duty to guarantee these throughout their supply chains. Every company can and should take the initiative, starting with the corporations that maintain sweatshops in Bangladesh and other offshore manufacturing havens.

Ten years of solidarity

In Fabriqué au Rana Plaza (Made in Rana Plaza, downloadable in French), Quebec artist François Simard sensitively portrayed not only of the tragedy, but also of corporate responsibility and international solidarity. Created in January 2023 for International Development Week, the comic book pays tribute to activists fighting for better working conditions for workers like the ones who perished in Bangladesh.

Kalpona Akter is a prime example. A survivor of forced labour in garment factories during her childhood, Akter is now internationally recognised for her activism; her commitment to decent working conditions; and as the founder and director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers’ Solidarity. Last fall, she toured Quebec for Journées québécoises de la solidarité internationale (Quebec International Solidarity Days) programming focused on economic justice, especially in the textiles industry.

People like Akter raise an important question. Who can, in good conscience, wear a Bangladeshi shirt, eat Ivorian chocolate, drink Colombian coffee or use a battery containing Congolese cobalt without caring about the workers who made these products possible and insisting that manufacturers treat them with respect and dignity?

What can we do?

Let’s become aware. Let’s make informed choices every time. Let’s be indignant, too. And above all, let’s get involved!

You can still sign and share the petition. Ask the right questions, demand the right answers… and the needed change. You can still march and militate for what makes sense and make all the difference: respect for the rights and dignity of every human being.

Marking the 10th anniversary

On Monday, April 24, following a press conference at 11 a.m., citizens are invited to Phillips Square at the stroke of noon to join the national rally for justice in the garments industry and for the adoption of due diligence legislation.

In homage to its victims and those working to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies, silence will be observed for two minutes―the duration of the Rana Plaza building collapse.

As a bonus, a symbolic work by artist Melissa Torres will be unveiled. To keep with the spirit, people are invited get creative and bring drums, pipes, flags, placards, etc. to join in the songs, speeches and poems on the agenda.

A workshop on the textile industry and economic justice will be presented by the Centre international de solidarité ouvrière (International Workers’ Solidarity Centre), the Coordination du Québec de la Marche mondiale des femmes (Quebec Coalition of the World Women’s March), and Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada. The workshop will be held at 2 p.m. in St. James United Church, which also serve as the general fallback venue in case of inclement weather.

On Tuesday, April 25, our executive director Carl Hétu will join a delegation of Canadian civil society organizations to present signed petitions for due diligence legislation to MPs on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The delegation will speak to the MPs about the Rana Plaza disaster and the issues it uncovered that still need addressing.

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