11 Years On...Remembering Rana Plaza: Honouring the Past, Building a Sustainable Future in Fashion

11 years have passed since the devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, an event that shook the world and brought attention to the harsh realities faced by garment workers. As we mark this solemn anniversary, it's essential not only to remember the lives lost but also to reflect on the progress made and the challenges that persist in ensuring the safety and well-being of garment workers worldwide. 

REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza building, located in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, claiming the lives of over 1,100 people and injuring thousands more. The factory housed several garment factories where workers, predominantly women, toiled long hours in unsafe conditions to produce clothing for major global brands.

The tragedy exposed the harsh realities of the fast-fashion garment industry, including substandard working conditions, inadequate safety measures, and the exploitation of workers in pursuit of fast fashion and cheap labor.

REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

Global Outcry and Calls for Change: 

In the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster, there was a global outcry for accountability and reform within the garment industry. Consumers demanded greater transparency and ethical practices from fashion brands, while governments and international organisations called for improved regulations and enforcement to protect the rights of workers.

The Rana Plaza collapse prompted the formation of initiatives such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which aimed to improve factory safety standards and protect workers' rights. These initiatives brought together brands, trade unions, and NGOs in a collaborative effort to address the systemic issues plaguing the industry.

REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

Progress and Challenges:

Since the Rana Plaza tragedy, significant strides have been made in improving factory safety and working conditions in not only in Bangladesh but across the world.

Thousands of garment factories have been inspected, and safety renovations have been carried out to mitigate risks and ensure compliance with international standards. In recent news, France has also taken the first bold step to penalise fast-fashion practices which is pivotal, read more on this here. 

"For the first time, more than half (52%) of major fashion brands disclosed their first tier supplier lists.The overall average score in the Traceability section, however, is 23% with nearly half (45%) of brands telling us little to nothing, scoring just 0-1% overall in this section."

-Fashion Revolution's Fashion Transparency Index 2023

France is also leading the way with Digital Product Passport (DPP). Industries like fashion, electronics and home furniture and appliances, where product origin and environmental impact are increasingly scrutinised, will find DPPs particularly relevant. These passports offer a comprehensive view of a product’s lifecycle, enhancing trust and accountability across sectors.

However, challenges remain in achieving lasting change. Many garment workers still face precarious employment conditions, low wages, and limited access to basic rights such as collective bargaining and safe working environments. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated these challenges, highlighting the vulnerability of workers in global supply chains.

With the current economic climate, manufacturers here in the U.K. are struggling to keep afloat as brands and retailers struggle to trade. Read more about our founder Diana Kakkar's view on this Vogue Business Article.

Munir uz ZAMAN / AFP 

The Path Forward

In today's globalised garment industry, it's imperative that we renew our dedication to justice, dignity, and the fundamental rights of all garment workers. Brands must prioritise ethical sourcing practices, transparency, and accountability throughout their supply chains. Equally important is the role of governments, who must enforce labor laws and regulations to safeguard workers from exploitation and abuse, holding accountable those who perpetrate such injustices.

Yet, the responsibility doesn't end there. Consumers wield significant influence in driving meaningful change. By making informed choices, supporting ethical brands, and advocating for fair and sustainable fashion practices, consumers can actively contribute to a more equitable and humane industry. Customers can use companies such as 'good on you' that provides the world's leading source for fashion brand ratings, before investing into a brand. 

Check out this documentary, 'Fashion Reimagined' directed by Becky Hunter starring Amy Powney (founder of Mother of Pearl), on how luxury UK fashion company Mother of Pearl tackles the challenge they set themselves, to develop a sub-label, No Frills, that makes only sustainable, ethically made clothing from Global Organic Textile Standard fabric. 

Jawad - sample machinist at MAES London Studio in North London

As we pay tribute to those we lost, let us reinvigorate our dedication to shaping an apparel industry that prioritises the dignity, safety, and welfare of each and every worker. Through collective action, we have the power to forge a future that is both equitable and sustainable for all.

If you're seeking sustainable and transparent manufacturing solutions, we're here to help. Get in touch with us today and learn more about our ethical practices and how we can support your business needs. Together, let's build a more responsible and equitable future for the fashion industry.

Email: hello@maeslondon.com