Image Credit: Dominic Chavez/World Bank
Following the Rana-Plaza tragedy, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) initiated a monitoring exercise to track post-disaster activities, focusing on the delivery status of commitments made by different stakeholders. Recommendations stemming from CPD’s research were adopted by the Government of Bangladesh to not only resolve immediate and short-term issues, but also to frame policies for improved public and private accountability, labour rights, and workplace safety.
SETTING THE SCENE — The collapse of the Rana Plaza building on April 24, 2013, which housed five garment factories, claimed more than 1130 lives and critically injured thousands more, many of whom were women. Immediately after the incident, promises of financial and other forms of support for both the victims and workers in the Ready Made Garments (RMG) sector were made by the government, RMG manufacturers, international buyers, and development partners. However, once the immediate safety concerns had been addressed, delivery of commitments started to lose its momentum.
WHAT CPD DID — CPD stepped in to monitor efforts following the disaster and put under scrutiny the status of delivery on those commitments. To this end, they launched the “Post-Rana Plaza Monitoring: A Civil Society Initiative” in collaboration with fourteen civil society organizations – including associations representing labour and women’s rights, garment manufacturing, and fire and safety – and a few eminent persons from civil society in Bangladesh. The initiative was rigorously carried out from May 2013 to April 2015 and released four in-depth monitoring reports during this time, based on field research and interviews with the families of those who were killed, surviving victims, RMG workers, factory-owners, policymakers, and RMG buyers.
CPD also convened dialogues engaging different stakeholders, which helped to highlight major issues underlying this tragedy, including poor working environments and corruption in terms of ensuring that buildings are properly maintained and up to code. Also, concerns around a lack of accountability and limited capacity on the part of public institutions were raised, which point to a general unpreparedness for dealing with such disasters. These dialogues also served to bring together surviving victims and the families of those who were killed to share their respective experiences, provide support to one another, express frustrations over the unmet commitments made by different groups, and contribute towards improving accountability, labour rights, and workplace safety going forward.
This initiative was a spontaneous response to the Rana Plaza disaster and, as such, there was no time available for CPD to mobilize resources for moving it forward. Instead, core funding from the Think Tank Initiative provided the organization with the means necessary for undertaking this challenging task.
THE OUTCOME — The response to this initiative was overwhelming: the monitoring reports were accessed from around the world, the multi-stakeholder dialogues were widely attended, and there was significant media attention – both nationally and internationally. This attention also led to increased support and assistance for the victims, through contributions from local and foreign organizations and individuals who wanted to take action upon learning about their struggles.
The initiative also leveraged the widespread attention to engage key international stakeholders – including major buyers of RMGs produced in Bangladesh – to consider various options for incentivizing suppliers and local authorities to ensure compliance with building codes and to promote workplace safety and workers’ rights. In addition to sharing its findings and recommendations at numerous international meetings and events, CPD was invited to join the advisory boards of key private bodies, such as Accord Bangladesh, that oversee adherence to building and fire codes, workers’ rights, and safe working environments within the RMG industry.
CPD made a number of recommendations based on their findings to various stakeholders, including the Government of Bangladesh. These included recommendations to allocate sufficient funds for medical treatment of the victims, to implement re-employment schemes for survivors, and to improve workplace safety. CPD also urged the government to implement corrective action plans for RMG factory owners, develop a local inspection and monitoring system to oversee the ongoing reform process, and to take measures for ensuring preferential market access for Bangladeshi-made RMG products in the United States. To date, more than half of CPD’s 60 recommendations have been adopted by the government, many of which have also been implemented. These not only served to address immediate and short-term issues following the tragedy, but also helped to frame policies for systemic improvements going forward.
Overall, the initiative helped to ensure that key actors, including the Government of Bangladesh and major RMG buyers, were held accountable for their commitments following the Rana Plaza tragedy. A number of other developments also resulted from CPD’s work, in combination with advocacy and outreach efforts by similar initiatives. As of April 2016, three years following the tragedy, the national labour law had been amended, more than 3600 factories producing ready-made garments had been inspected, minimum wage for workers had nearly doubled, and the right to form trade unions within factories was approved. Although CPD’s is but one of many initiatives that sought to address the issues stemming from and highlighted by the Rana Plaza tragedy, it is distinctive in that it was driven by a dedicated group of partner organizations – most of whom are based in Bangladesh – and continued over multiple years.
CPD is currently undertaking new research to better understand how the ongoing economic and social restructuring taking place in Bangladesh’s RMG sector is taking hold. Through the study, CPD will conduct a survey of 2000 individual workers at 350 RMG factories across the country. Their findings and policy recommendations are expected to help contribute towards a globally competitive, compliant, and sustainable RMG sector in Bangladesh, as the country works towards delivering on its apparel export target of USD 50 billion by 2021.
For more information on CPD, visit http://cpd.org.bd