Bangladesh's workers deserve better
Four months after a building collapse killed more than 1,100 factory workers in Bangladesh, their families are still waiting for adequate—and in some cases, any—compensation. This is a shocking lapse by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government.
After the disaster at Rana Plaza, a poorly constructed eight-storey building outside Dhaka, the capital, Hasina promised to give the relatives of those who died about $1,250 in cash and $19,000 in savings certificates—amounts that far exceed the roughly $1,250 that factory owners are legally required to pay per victim, but far from sufficient, considering that many victims were young women and men who had a whole lifetime ahead of them. The money was supposed to come from the government and from private donations by, among others, the factory owners.
But the government has yet to distribute most of that money. It has provided sums ranging from $1,250 to $5,000 to about 777 families, far short of the total compensation it had promised, according to the Solidarity Centre, a Washington-based group that helps workers around the world form unions. Also, many of the remaining families have not received any aid at all because the government has not moved fast enough to identify nearly 300 bodies.
Compensating victims' families in a tragedy as big as the collapse of Rana Plaza would strain the resources of a poor country like Bangladesh. But Hasina's administration can do a much better job. According to labour and legal aid groups, the government has not said to whom it has given money, why some families received more than others and why the larger sums—including the $19,000 in certificates—have not been handed out.
The programme clearly needs an independent administrator to handle the payments, which are now distributed by Hasina's office, and to help speed up the identification of bodies. The two dozen or so Western clothing companies and retailers whose clothes were being made in Rana Plaza should also contribute.
So far, with the exception of the British retailer Primark, they have not provided any compensation. They will have an opportunity to discuss this issue next month at a meeting convened by IndustriALL, a Geneva-based labour union, and the Clean Clothes Campaign, an anti-sweatshop group based in Amsterdam. Some American and European companies have helped workers and their families after other factory fires and collapses, and they should do so in this case too.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza reminded the world of the appallingly dangerous working conditions in Bangladesh's clothing factories. Attention must now be directed to those who have suffered and died because of those conditions.