Canada failed to act after Rana Plaza collapse

Opinion by CLC President Hassan Yussuff
Published in the Ottawa Citizen

When the Rana Plaza building, an eight story factory complex in the capital of Bangladesh, collapsed on April 24, 2013, more than 1,100 garment workers were killed and approximately 2,500 others were seriously injured. At the time, media analysts around the world declared the disaster a wake-up call for clothing retailers and brands that had flocked to the country for its bargain-basement labour costs.

Since that time, Canada’s unions have been working with Bangladeshi garment workers and their labour movement to improve working conditions, with a goal of giving workers in those factories the same basic rights most Canadians take for granted – the right to a safe workplace and the right to bargain with their employers for better working conditions, wages and fair treatment.

But almost a year and a half since one of the worst industrial disasters in history, Canada’s retailers are still sitting on their hands. They haven’t woken up to their responsibilities to the workers who make their clothes for pitifully low wages in unsafe conditions.

Internationally, major apparel companies have stepped forward and contributed to a relief fund, the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, which was established to provide long-term compensation for lost income and ongoing medical costs to the families of workers who were killed or who suffered debilitating injuries from the collapse of their workplace. To their credit, some of these companies had no connection to the factories in the Rana Plaza building, but have given because they recognize the shared responsibility of all companies sourcing from Bangladesh for the hazardous working conditions that are endemic to the country’s garment export industry.