BANGLADESH: Government learns no lesson from Rana Plaza tragedy

A Joint Statement by the Asian Legal Resource Centre, and Odhikar

Two years ago, on April 24, 2013, the nine-storied Rana Plaza building collapsed in Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. It housed five garment-manufacturing factories. On the day it collapsed the building contained approximately five thousand workers. After the collapse, rescuers retrieved 1,135 bodies; 2,438 workers were pulled out from the debris with severe injuries. Many of the deceased still remain unidentified. After two years, relatives are still searching for missing workers. Human remains are still being found in the foundations of the collapsed building. As per the list prepared by local Upazila Administration and labour organisations, 377 persons are still missing; the district administration reports 136 still missing. And, yet, on the second anniversary of this tragedy, families with missing members are yet to even receive financial assistance. 

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), and Odhikar recall the incident with deep sorrow. The organisations share the pain of all the families of the workers who have suffered losses and sustained injuries during the collapse. 

The readymade garments sector is one of the primary foreign currency earners for the Bangladesh economy. Workers connected to this sector play a vital role in this regard. However, due to gross negligence and carelessness of some groups with vested interest, and due to the corruption and irresponsibility of concerned government agencies, human disasters such as fires and building collapses are not uncommon in Bangladesh, placing the lives of its primary foreign currency generators in peril. 

Apart from the Rana Plaza tragedy, there have been several other similar incidents that have taken the lives of several hundred workers. On April 12, 2005, at least 68 persons died in the Spectrum Sweater Factory collapse in Savar. The case filed in connection with the collapse is still under trial. On November 24, 2012, at least 112 workers burned to death and around 200 were injured at Tazrin Fashions in Ashulia. Those responsible are yet to be brought to book. On January 26, 2013, another 7 workers died in a fire at Smart Fashions in Dhaka. The case filed has led nowhere. 

In the case of Rana Plaza, 12 cases have been filed. Among them, the trials of 11 cases are pending at the Labour Court and two of them are still being investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Victims’ families doubt the possibility of them getting justice, given the numerous hindrances faced in the working of criminal justice institutions. Basic transparency in the collection of financial resources for disbursement, in the payment of compensation, and in the operation of rehabilitation schemes is severely lacking, generating more distrust in the process. 

A notable development since the tragedy has been the government’s decision to form a special police unit, named ‘Industrial Police’, to control workers’ demonstrations and protests. It has been alleged that the Industrial Police are working to serve the interests of the factory owners and the government. These policemen come down with a heavy hand on protest rallies of workers who demand a living wage. The delay or denial in paying wages for overtime work and unfair termination, remain unaddressed. To add to this, independent trade union activities are largely restricted, so the workers are not represented properly through a body that will take care of their welfare. 

Many organisations demand impartial investigation of all the man-made-disasters that have occurred in the factories in Bangladesh. Those that have sided with the victims to call for the perpetrators to be brought to justice have faced further harassment, intimidation, and threat from the authorities. Labour leader Aminul Islam, who was abducted by the law-enforcement agencies and subsequently murdered, is a glaring example of the governmental repression against workers in Bangladesh. The government does not publish a complete list of the dead and injured factory workers. Paying adequate compensation to the victim’s families and rehabilitating injured workers remains the lowest priority. 

The Bangladesh government chooses to use its law-enforcement agencies against workers; the international buyers are not sincere about workers’ rights; and the international community of buyers do not wish to be held responsible despite the serious need to ensure worker protection. Unless greater national and international responsibility is taken, unless the perpetrators are formally held responsible, the culture of impunity for the owners of both the factories and the buildings will continue and the workers will continue to suffer. 

The Rana Plaza tragedy that continues today, two years since the original disaster, epitomises what is wrong with Bangladesh, a land that lacks the rule of law. In such a land, and ultimately even beyond, no one is immune. Everyone will pay the price, one way or another. 


About the ALRCThe Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at the local and national levels throughout Asia.

About the Odhikar: Odhikar, means ‘rights’ in Bangla language, is a human rights organisation based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A group of human rights defenders established this organisation in October 1994 to create a wider monitoring and awareness raising system on the abuse of civil and political rights in Bangladesh. The rights watchdog contributes to policy advocacy aiming to address the contemporary human rights situation in Bangladesh. It is registered as an NGO with the NGO Affairs Bureau of the Government of Bangladesh bearing registration no. 924, 1995. Odhikar has a special consultative status with ECOSOC at the United Nations.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : ALRC-STM-004-2015
Countries : Bangladesh,