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Four years after Rana Plaza – will changes be effective and last?

News vom 24.04.2017

On the 24th of April 2013 the nine-storey garment factory in the City Sabhar, in the north-west of Dhaka, collapsed. More than 1100 workers died and more than 2400 people were injured. The collapse of Rana Plaza was one of the deadliest accidents in the history of the global garment industry, but sadly only one in a series of factory accidents in Bangladesh, Pakistan or other garment-producing countries.

Four years after the Rana Plaza disaster a lot has happened. On the transnational level, among the most noteworthy developments are the Accord for Fire and Building Safety (Accord) and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance). More recently the collective ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation)-initiative followed, a collaborative process towards living wages for workers in global textile and garment supply chains. In an collaborative effort of German and Bangladeshi actors a new capacity building initiative for worker representatives was initiated, called Academy of Work (AoW).

On a national level, policy makers in garment-importing countries reacted to the Rana Plaza disaster. Labour standards in global garment supply chains have risen on the political agenda. Multi-stakeholder initiatives, like the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles were initiated, aiming to bring about social, ecological and economic improvements in the textile and garment supply chain. A similar initiative exists in the Netherlands. In the UK, the Modern Slavery Act now contains requirements on the transparency in supply chains regarding the steps taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in the home country business or the supply chain. In Bangladesh, changes have been made to the labour law following Rana Plaza, which now includes several provisions aimed at improving workplace safety and making some improvements in the compensation for workers.

Also lead firms have reacted to Rana Plaza. Changes on the corporate level comprise CSR-initiatives as well as changing purchasing practices, but also collaboration and engagement in multi-stakeholder as well as industry-driven initiatives.

With all these institutional innovations taking place, important questions remain: Will the steps taken by transnational organizations, governments, lead firms, unions, and NGOs have any meaningful effect on the working conditions of workers in Bangladeshi garment factories? And, more importantly, will these effects be sustainable? What can we learn from the steps taken so far and how could the remaining gaps be filled?

In order to answer these questions, systematic research needs to be conducted. Our Garment Supply Chain Governance Project combines a systematic, comparative analysis of developed country lead firm policies and practices with comprehensive, on-the-ground research among managers, workers, government and civil society organizations in Bangladesh.

This year we will present first indicative findings from our ongoing research at conferences of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) and the European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS), among others.

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