Rana Plaza

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pages: 518 words: 147,036

The Fissured Workplace by David Weil

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Conditions that resulted in the deaths had parallels with the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911 in New York City: locked fire exits, supervisors demanding that workers return to their stations in the face of alarms, and people jumping to their deaths from a burning building. Notably, the facility provided products for a number of major U.S. brands and retailers and had been covered by a workplace monitoring arrangement with Walmart, one of its major customers.48 Less than six months later, in April 2013, a multistory building in Savar, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing 1,127 people who worked in the numerous apparel manufacturing companies located in it. The Rana Plaza complex collapse was the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry. Apparel contractors in the building produced goods destined for such global brands as Walmart, Benetton, the Children’s Place, and British retailers Bonmarché and Primark.49 Global supply chains give rise to benefits to the companies that draw upon them, the consumers who purchase goods produced through them, and the workers who are employed as part of them.

But given their deep integration with the supply base and the essential strategic need to carefully prescribe, certify, and conduct ongoing monitoring of adherence to technical, quality, and delivery standards, it seems arbitrary to absolve those lead companies from responsibility for, at the very least, seeing that those suppliers adhere to the labor standards of their home country. The Apple/Foxconn story illustrates that lead firms can take more responsibility. The Tazreen and Rana Plaza tragedies exemplify the failure to do so. Any effort to address wage levels, health and safety, labor standards compliance, or other aspects of work must recognize that the modern workplace, as redrawn through the organizational forms discussed in Part II, looks less and less like the one enshrined in most public policies. Improving the workplace requires changing the way laws assign responsibility.

The policy changes at Foxconn, in particular, including substantial pay increases and reduction in work hour policies as well as efforts to improve health and safety outcomes, are notable, as are the resources and attention Apple and HP have devoted to developing better capacities to monitor and improve labor and environmental practices in their supply bases.37 At the same time, the death of more than five hundred Bangladeshi workers in factory fires between 2006 and 2012 and the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex leading to more than 1,100 fatalities in 2013, all in facilities primarily serving apparel export markets points to the continuing huge challenges faced in this arena. This point is underscored by the fact that most of those who died worked in factories that were technically covered by codes of conduct or some type of international monitoring arrangement.38 A complete discussion of the impact of codes of conduct, transparency, and voluntary monitoring occurring across the boundaries of national workplace policies raises issues beyond the scope of this book and requires separate assessment.39 But several general points about recent efforts to address this particular driver of fissured workplaces can be made here.


pages: 515 words: 132,295

Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business by Rana Foroohar

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The spate of disasters at BP is one example, but a more recent and even more devastating event in terms of lives lost was the 2013 disaster at the Rana Plaza garment-making complex in Bangladesh. Of the 3,500 workers who labored there to churn out cheap clothing for brands like Walmart, more than 1,100 died when a poorly constructed factory collapsed on top of them. As it turned out, the cause wasn’t just a lack of adequate safety standards in Bangladesh (though that was part of the story). The complexity that outsourcing introduces into the supply chain was also at play. In the aftermath of the collapse, Walmart claimed that it didn’t even know Rana Plaza was used to make girls’ jeans it was planning to sell. (After documents surfaced showing that its Canadian supplier had indeed ordered pants from Rana Plaza, that firm blamed a “rogue employee” for filing the order.)30 The revelations were all the more unsettling given that just eight months prior, Walmart-bound apparel had turned up in another disaster-stricken Bangladeshi factory, after a fire there had killed 120 people.

But the financialization of the American economy is the third major, unacknowledged factor in slower growth, and it engages with the other two in myriad destructive ways. Finance loves outsourcing, for example, since pushing labor to emerging markets reduces costs. But financiers rarely think about the risks that offshoring adds to supply chains—risks tragically evidenced in events like the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza textile manufacturing center in Bangladesh, which killed more than a thousand garment workers who spent their days stitching T-shirts and jeans for companies like Walmart, Children’s Place, and JCPenney in buildings that weren’t up to code. Finance also loves the cost savings inherent in technology. Yet high-tech financial applications like flash trading and computer-generated algorithms used in complex securities have resulted in repeated market crashes, wiping out trillions of dollars of wealth.


pages: 327 words: 90,542

The Age of Stagnation by Satyajit Das

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Today the US is around 20–25 times wealthier than the average poor nation. The reasons lie in the relationship between developed and emerging economies. In April 2013, Rana Plaza, an eight-story complex of clothing factories near Dhaka in Bangladesh, collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people. It followed an earlier fire at Tazreen Fashions, another Dhaka factory, which killed more than one hundred. In 2010, a number of workers at a Foxconn electronics factory in China, a supplier to Apple, committed suicide. These incidents are only a miniscule part of the human cost of low-cost manufacturing in emerging markets. The proximate cause of the Rana Plaza collapse was clear. The original 2006 approval was for a five-story building, which was correctly designed and constructed. Subsequently, three more floors were added, with permission based on allegedly false documents.

Prices have decreased by around 10 percent over the last five years. Return on investment in the garment trade has decreased from 50 to 20 percent, which is close to the cost of debt in Bangladesh. In turn, this drives further cost-reduction measures. The problems are compounded by weak government, corruption, rent-seeking, and poor administration. Bangladeshi building regulations are not enforced. Trade unions are aggressively suppressed. The owner of Rana Plaza was linked with one of Bangladesh's major political parties and allegedly used his influence to obtain approvals from the authorities, even though the building extensions did not comply with standards. The same pattern, repeated across countries and industries, relies on what Palestine-born writer Edward Said in 1978 termed Orientalism. This refers to the patronizing attitude of Westerners towards Asian, Middle Eastern, and African societies, which are seen as static and underdeveloped, and which a superior West can shape in accordance with its own requirements.


pages: 414 words: 119,116

The Health Gap: The Challenge of an Unequal World by Michael Marmot

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She looks around the table at the Americans and Europeans wearing clothes – smart casual, remember – from Benetton, Primark, C&A, Mango and others and she says: I made those garments. Well, perhaps not literally those very garments, but ones very much like those were made in the factories where my friends and I work. Cue guilt feelings on the part of the Americans and Europeans. It is difficult not to feel that our liking for cheap clothes is somehow linked to the collapse, in April 2013, of the garment factory at the Rana Plaza complex that killed 1,100 people and injured 2,500 more. Cheap clothes in London and New York mean rotten factory conditions and low pay in Dhaka, in Bangladesh. Like it or not, we are involved. The simple version of this is that we, in high-income countries, export low pay and sweatshop working conditions to Bangladesh and Bangladesh exports affordable clothing to us – globalisation at work.

Hyder reports that 90 per cent of her interviewees thought that working was better than being a housewife, and could see the opportunities it brings. One garment worker, a woman in her forties from a rural background, saw her daughter go to college. Three generations: rural poor, urban factory worker, college graduate. That is not to say that any of us who has bought a garment made in Bangladesh should be relaxed about the working conditions in which it was produced. The Rana Plaza incident brought much-needed attention to the question of working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry. There are power asymmetries at work here. If Bangladesh starts to get more organised about pay and working conditions, multinational corporations can simply shift their business elsewhere, to the detriment of Bangladesh’s economy and of the women who gladly see the work as empowering them.

Available from: http://www.sulabhinternational.org/admin/config/media/file-system/Summary%20of%20the%20Case%20Study-Sulabh%20International-A%20Movement%20to%20Liberate%20Scavengers%20by%20Implementing%20a%20Low-Cost%2C%20Safe%20Sanitation%20System-by%20UNDP.pdf. 3Franco G. Ramazzini and workers’ health. Lancet. 1999; 354(9181): 858–61. 4Ibid. 5Eurofound. Fifth European Working Conditions Survey. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012. 6Ibid. 7Butler S. Bangladesh garment workers still vulnerable a year after Rana Plaza. The Guardian. 24 April 2014. 8International Labour Organisation. ILO Introductory Report: Global Trends and Challenges on Occupational Safety and Health. 2011. 9Marmot MG, Rose G, Shipley M, Hamilton PJS. Employment grade and coronary heart disease in British civil servants. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 1978; 32: 244–9. 10Marmot MG, Davey Smith G, Stansfeld SA, Patel C, North F, Head J, et al.


pages: 497 words: 144,283

Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization by Parag Khanna

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For months prior, Chinese businessmen had been buying up as much Aptamil as they could from wholesale distributors and selling each carton for double the price on Taobao (the Chinese eBay) to mainland mothers concerned about the poor quality of Chinese baby formula (from which at least a dozen Chinese babies had died of poisoning). British pharmacies and grocery stores suddenly had to ration the popular baby formula. Maps 1, 24 and 25, corresponding to this chapter, appear in the map insert. On April 24, 2013, the upper floors of the Rana Plaza garment factory and apartment block in the Savar district of Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed and pulled down the whole building. When the search for survivors was called off one month later, 1,127 people were declared dead, making it the deadliest structural failure in history. While shoddy construction, corrupt management, poor regulation, and chaotic response are typical of the Bangladeshi manufacturing sector, the unprecedented scale of the tragedy and the factory’s customers—Primark, H&M, and Zara, among others—brought weeks of intense media scrutiny.

Even when e-commerce cuts out the traditional retailer or middleman, the sheer complexity of production and distribution of many high-tech products has required a near doubling of the number of transactions needed to create a finished product in the first place. Thus even as our concerns about supply chains increase, our dependence on them grows. It takes great care to trace and manage supply chains. The Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka was the epicenter of six layers of suppliers—clearly more than anyone realized or was actively managing. To ensure the thousands of uniforms they purchase every year are made sustainably, administrators and student delegations from United World Colleges (K–12) in Singapore travel to factories in interior Malaysia to monitor facilities’ compliance with World Responsible Accredited Production codes of conduct.

The Bangladesh garment factory and the jobs it creates might not have existed were it not for Western retailers, and its collapse would barely have been noticed by Western consumers were it not for their connection to those brands. Bangladesh’s new building code is being designed not by lax local authorities but by a consortium including seventy European companies whose reputations depend on avoiding a repeat of the Rana Plaza disaster. Similarly, a franchise business can be more accountable due to strict rules set forth by a powerful parent company. McDonald’s has more capacity to inspect itself, and more incentive to protect its brand, than any government can devote to monitoring it. Similarly, the West African societies where children work in cocoa fields don’t raise wages or build schools the way Nestlé can.*1 — SUPPLY CHAINS WERE ONCE thought of as spurring a race to the bottom; now it is clear they are how countries race to the top.


pages: 829 words: 229,566

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein

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Personal interview with Margrete Strand Rangnes, March 18, 2013. 39. Malm, “China as Chimney of the World,” 147, 162. 40. Elisabeth Rosenthal, “Europe Turns Back to Coal, Raising Climate Fears,” New York Times, April 23, 2008; Personal email communication with IEA Clean Coal Centre, March 19, 2014. 41. Jonathan Watts, “Foxconn offers pay rises and suicide nets as fears grow over wave of deaths,” Guardian, May 28, 2010; Shahnaz Parveen, “Rana Plaza factory collapse survivors struggle one year on,” BBC News, April 23, 2014. 42. Mark Dowie, Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 185-86; Keith Schneider, “Environment Groups Are Split on Support for Free-Trade Pact,” New York Times, September 16, 1993. 43. Dowie, Losing Ground, 186–87; Gilbert A. Lewthwaite, “Gephardt Declares Against NAFTA; Democrat Cites Threat to U.S.