Skip to main content

Bangladeshi relatives of victims of last yearâ™s Rana Plaza building collapse, along with activists hold candles during a gathering on the eve of the tragedy, the worst in the history of the garment industry, in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. More than 1,100 people were killed when the illegally constructed, 8-storey building collapsed on April 24, 2013, in a heap along with thousands of workers in the five garment factories in the building. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)

A.M. Ahad/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

A year ago, the world woke up to the true cost of a $7 T-shirt when the Rana Plaza came crashing down in Bangladesh. Most of those killed were poorly paid garment workers toiling in dismal conditions. Cracks in the nine-storey building appeared in the days before the collapse, but they were ignored. Demand for cheap clothes eclipsed any concerns over safety: 1,138 people were killed and scores more maimed for life.

Many clothing companies faced pressure to pull out of Bangladesh, and some did, relocating their garment production to other countries where labour is cheap and safety standards virtually non-existent. Others chose to stay, committing to improving working conditions in garment factories and shed light into some of the darkest corners of the global supply chain of cheap clothes. In Bangladesh, where the garment sector employs over four million workers and exports more than $20-billion of goods, this is no small thing. Those companies, like Loblaw, who vowed to stay and to improve, don't deserve to be condemned without a hearing. Bangladesh needs better jobs, not no jobs.

But looking at three measures of progress – wages, factory inspections and compensation – what's striking is how little has been done. The Bangladeshi government moved to raise minimum wage for garment workers to about $66 (U.S.) a month. That's a 77 per cent increase, but it still consigns Bangladeshi garment workers to the ranks of the lowest paid in the world.

Story continues below advertisement

Factory inspections are another example of slow progress. Two coalitions were formed in the wake of Rana Plaza to improve safety standards: the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Together they represent 176 companies and have conducted roughly 700 inspections. The vast majority of factories still fail to meet safety standards. But without greater co-ordination between investigating agencies, fixing these factories will prove elusive. Meanwhile "indirect sourcing," or middlemen subcontracting garment workers to non-compliant plants, remains an enormous, unexamined grey zone. On the issue of compensation, efforts have fallen shockingly short. The Rana Plaza Donors Trust fund has raised just $15-million – well below its $40-million target.

A year after Rana Plaza, consumer demand for cheap clothing remains insatiable. And measures to ensure that the $7 T-shirt isn't paid for in blood aren't yet strong enough.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies