Pledges not fulfilled
A group of civil society organisations yesterday launched an initiative to follow through on the commitments made in the aftermath of Rana Plaza collapse, which remain unfulfilled more than three months on.
Following the building collapse on April 24, the government, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and many development partners, international organisations and retailers made a host of pledges, some immediate and some long-term, to the victims and the garment sector at large.
Given their slow implementation, even the more pressing ones, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in partnership with 14 other organisations have formed the forum to make sure the promises are delivered -- and to accelerate the process.
"We want to make a difference this time. If this initiative can establish transparency and accountability, we will be able to redeem ourselves to some extent to those who died or were injured," Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of CPD, said.
Rehman Sobhan, chairman of CPD, said the forum would put pressure on the government and other stakeholders so that “they discharge their responsibilities properly”. "We, as a community, can at least try to ensure that incidents like this do not repeat."
As part of the initiative, the think tank yesterday presented its report on the progress made on the commitments 100 days after the tragedy, at CIRDAP auditorium in the city.
Subsequent to the incident that killed at least 1,132 workers and injured thousands, the government pledged to provide Tk 1 lakh to each of the deceased workers' families together with financial assistance of up to Tk 15 lakh in the form of savings certificate and life insurance benefit of Tk 1 lakh.
But KG Moazzem, additional research director of CPD, pointed out that the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is lagging way behind on their delivery.
Only 30 families have received financial assistance of Tk 10 lakh on average. "Given the urgency of these families, the disbursement needs to be swifter."
As for the life insurance, 777 families have received this benefit so far, meaning at least another 355 remain.
“The distribution of the fund from the PMO is well-appreciated although a large number of the victims' families are yet to get the benefit. Since all information on the dead workers are available, the government should immediately disburse the fund."
Meanwhile, the BGMEA has committed to raise Tk 25,000 from each of its 5,000-odd member factories and forward the proceeds to the Prime Minister's Funds. It is yet to be established whether this has taken place or not.
Moazzem said the Prime Minister's Fund has also received donations from non-government and private organisations and individuals. "The PMO should make it public the total funds it has received and how it plans to hand it out."
Around 700 of the dead or missing workers' families are yet to receive what they were promised by the prime minister and the BGMEA, he said. “The situation needs to change urgently.”
For the injured workers, other than a financial package, the government has agreed to provide physiological treatment of two years and rehabilitate their family members.
The BGMEA, separately, committed to provide employment to the disabled workers' able-bodied family members, which is yet to be implemented.
“The hospitals, who earlier gave free treatment to the injured workers, have started to charge them. These workers can't afford the medical treatment. What happened to the government's plan for 2-year physiological treatment?”
Moazzem also demanded the BGMEA make public about its initiatives for the injured workers.
The researcher also said there is no updated information about the progress of the pledges made by the international retailers although H&M, Inditex and C&A have committed to disburse $5 million each for the victims' families. "The progress on the disbursement of these funds needs to be made public."
A number of injured workers of the ill-fated building, who were present at the event, said they received between Tk 16,000 and Tk 21,000.
Shabana Akhter, who was rescued three days after the building collapsed, said she received only a month's salary instead of four as promised. "I was advised six months' rest. Plus, I need to buy medicines. How am I expected to get by with only a month's salary?"
Nilu Sardar, who lost an eye in the industrial accident, the worst in the country's history, said he has received only Tk 16,000 from British retailer Primark -- and none from the BGMEA or the PMO.
“Although my treatment at the National Institute of Ophthalmology is being taken care of by the government, I have other expenses too -- Tk 16,000 is not enough to last me through.”
Moazzem said one of the purposes of the initiative is to fight for the rights of the victims such as Akhter and Sardar.
Commerce Minister GM Quader and a number of labour rights activists welcomed the initiative. “The government always pays higher value to the suggestions and recommendations made by the research and civil society organisations,” Quader said.
Hamida Hossain, chairman of Ain O Shalish Kendra, recommended a framework such that the workers and trade unions can be involved in the monitoring of the promises.
Wazed Ali Khan of the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies called for compensation based on the annual loss of earnings. "Tk 1-2 lakh is nothing. Besides, special programmes have to be taken to rehabilitate the injured workers."
Zillul Hye Razi, trade adviser to the European Union delegation to Bangladesh, said the country's garment sector would have to be careful about labour rights and working conditions as the EU would be closely watching them throughout 2014.
Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury, a former commerce minister, said the government agencies did not play its due role irrespective of the party in power.
Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Shujan, said the political power and the business power have merged into a power that was least bothered about following laws.
Anis Ud Dowla, a former president of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the collapse of the building was an issue of bad governance. Quader, too, acknowledged the lack of good governance, which he deems to be a “major problem” for the country.
Debapriya Bhattacharya, a distinguished fellow of CPD, moderated the programme.
The Institute of Architects, Bangladesh, Ain of Salish Kendra, Ahsania Mission, ActionAid Bangladesh, Gono Shakkhorota Abhijan, Transparency International Bangladesh, Nari Paksha, Nijera Kori, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik, Prothom Alo and The Daily Star, are the initiative's partners.