Rana Plaza: Still Waiting for a Faster Fashion Revolution


Rana Plaza factory

Two years ago today, 1,133 people died in the Rana Plaza disaster in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and another 2,500 more were injured. It is considered the deadliest garment-factory catastrophe in history.

As we reported in the wake of the disaster: “The death toll in the latest Bangladesh garment industry disaster has risen to more than 300 as rescue crews continue to pull survivors from the rubble of Rana Plaza and search for an estimated 500 workers still missing, with more than 2,500 already rescued.”

On the first anniversary of the tragedy last year, April 24th was declared Fashion Revolution Day as a global day of action, the brainchild of Fairtrade hat company owner Carry Somers and sustainable fashion activist Orsola de Castro. The social media campaign urges consumers worldwide to ask questions about where their clothes are made—and it’s working.

Rana Plaza

Today, thousands of  events are taking place in 71 countries, including documentary screenings, pop-up markets and mass clothes swaps. Supporters worldwide are urged to wear a piece of clothing inside out so the label shows and post a photograph on social media with the hashtag #whomademyclothes.

“There’s a massive number of consumers wanting answers,” said Melinda Tually, Australia’s coordinating Fashion Revolution Day organizer. “It’s very much people on the ground putting on their own events, going to their retailers and asking them to tell them where their clothes are from.”

Fashion Revolution exemplifies the growing leadership of socially conscious fashion designers and consumers where brands and local governments have lagged. “We want to use the power of fashion to inspire a permanent change in the fashion industry and reconnect the broken links in the supply chain.”

Rana Plaza Fashion Revolution

“At the moment of purchase, most of us are unaware of the processes and impacts involved in the creation of a garment. We need to reconnect through a positive narrative, to understand that we aren’t just purchasing a garment or accessory, but a whole chain of value and relationships. By asking consumers, designers, brands, and all those who care to ask a simple question, ‘who made my clothes?’ we envisage a change in perspective that will lead to a deeper understanding.”

On the brand front, Stella McCartney is a Fashion Revolution supporter while Benetton, the last major western fashion retailer that sourced clothing from Rana Plaza, announced a contribution of $1.1 million last week, to deliver on its commitment to the UN’s International Labour Organisation. The campaign remains $8 million short of its original $30 million, target and activists asked Benetton to close the gap.

“Benetton had a real opportunity to emerge as a leader and prove that its pledges of empathy, understanding and care for the welfare of the victims were not just some PR spin,” said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign. “Unfortunately, the true colours of Benetton are now revealed.”

Canadian fashion designer Laura Siegel’s documentary, Traceable, debuts on the MTV, Bravo, M3 and E! TV networks today. “I want people to be connected to the artisans who make my clothes, to be able to share their stories so that we don’t lose these craftspeople,” said Siegel.

Rana Plaza documentary

“I think consumers today are really smart. They want to know where things are made and they care about sustainability. I’m really thankful that we’re still having this conversation. There still hasn’t been any really major solutions that have significantly impacted the way the model works. But we need to talk about it, not just move on.”

The War on Want reports that in 2015, the majority of garment workers in Bangladesh make around $37 a month while the living wage there is around $67 a month. Add child labor, horrendous working conditions including 14-16 hour workdays, seven days a week, and a labor force of 85 percent women, and the situation remains untenable.

One innovative idea from a handful of researchers at NYU’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights is to display all of Bangladesh’s garment factories on a single map. “You can’t do anything to fix something if you can’t find it,” said Nayantara Banerjee, project manager.

To find many small, unmarked factories today, one must follow rickshaws carrying bundles of unfinished garments. The media has painted a bleak picture of “the vast underworld of illegal subcontractors,” said Banerjee.  “These smaller facilities don’t necessarily want to operate in the shadows.”

Looking ahead, on May 29th watch out for The True Cost, a documentary about the impact of Rana Plaza—and the work that’s still to be done.