The Rana Plaza building housed several garment factories on its fourth floor that made clothes mainly for US corporations, including Walmart, The Children’s Place,Benetton, and Dress Barn. Most of the people who lost their lives in the April building collapse were workers from those factories. Prior to the collapse, despite police warnings that the building was unsafe to enter, factory managers had ordered their workers inside to continue sewing clothes.
Bangladesh is notorious for allowing sweatshop factories to exist within its borders, and US companies are quick to exploit them. Green America has been pressuring companies to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which would include worker input, transparency, and legally binding commitments to protect workers. Some of the largest American clothing brands, including Gap and Walmart, have refused to sign, or to step up and provide greater protections for their vulnerable workers overseas. Walmart claimed to have banned over 200 unsafe factories as vendors, but was recently found to be continuing to receive shipments from two factories on the banned list.
Green America Fair Trade director Elizabeth O’Connell delivered 8,500 petitions to Gap in May, demanding action, and she says US clothing manufacturers still need to hear more from their customers.
“The tragedy at Rana is only the most recent of a series of preventable disasters, including the Tazreen factory fire last fall that killed 112 people,” says O’Connell. “There are currently 4 million garment workers in Bangladesh, and the vast majority of them are women struggling to feed their families. It is the responsibility of every company manufacturing in Bangladesh to ensure that the people producing their products have a safe place to go to work.”