Promises not kept, mostly
Families of the injured and dead in the Rana Plaza building collapse are leading a life of uncertainty as the government, garment factory owners and international brands have failed to honour their commitments.
A wide gap exists between the commitments made when the building caved in at Savar and the delivery of those promises even today, when the country and many international organisations observe the tragedy's first anniversary.
"Despite various initiatives at national and international levels, the victims and their families are still in a vulnerable state," said the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in its third monitoring report since the disaster occurred.
"With the passing of the first year, the need to fulfil those commitments has become urgent," said KG Moazzem, additional research director of CPD.
The disclosures came at a dialogue, 'One Year after the Rana Plaza Tragedy: Where Do We Stand? The Victims, the Sector and the Value Chain', at Brac Centre Inn in Dhaka yesterday.
CPD, in association with 14 civil society think-tanks, rights groups and newspapers, has been tracking progress on various initiatives related to the collapse of Rana Plaza that housed five garment factories.
CPD said the enthusiasm, devotion, hard work and combined efforts that were observed from all corners of society to rescue workers, provide treatment and financial support to the victims and their families, and for taking care of the orphans, have all gradually slowed.
"The combined sum of those initiatives did not equate to adequate outcomes. As a result, a wide gap persists between the commitments and delivery of some commitments."
The study said the victims urgently need long-term financial support to meet their day-to-day expenses, as the support they received could only meet their immediate and short-term needs.
"While there have been numerous short-term support provided, much of it has been exhausted in immediate daily necessities, rather than contributing towards long term subsistence."
It appears that the focus of the key stakeholders has shifted from the core areas, such as the victims and the sector, towards other areas such as cost, price and politics, said CPD in the report.
CPD Chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan, who presided over the event, urged the government to take necessary steps to compensate the workers who have made Bangladesh a globally competitive producer in the apparel sector.
"Otherwise, the victims will continue to live hand to mouth. And in the long run, no one will be responsible if any such major incident takes place in the future."
Shirin Akhter, a lawmaker and labour activist, said the country would have to formulate a long-term strategy for the welfare of the victims, so the injured and families of the dead do not feel that their sacrifices were worthless.
Major pledges from the government side include Tk 1 lakh for each family of the dead, a two-year plan for physiological treatment of the injured, including treatment abroad for seriously wounded workers, and rehabilitation of the family members of the injured workers.
Families of 962 workers of the 1,135 dead received between Tk 1 lakh and Tk 5 lakh from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund, said Mikail Shipar, labour secretary.
The secretary admitted that the families of 173 dead workers could not be given any financial support yet as 88 of them have just been identified through DNA tests and the rest remain unidentified.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) made commitments in regard to raising funds for the affected workers and providing employment.
It has provided Tk 14.4 crore so far for treatment, salaries to all Rana Plaza workers and donations to the PM's fund.
However, BGMEA did not take any initiative to arrange alternate jobs for them, said CPD.
Compensation for the workers has become a critical issue, which has not yet been resolved, the think-tank added.
Sultan Ahmed, assistant secretary general of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), said receiving compensation is a legal right of the workers. "The owners of the factories and the buyers will have to bear it."
Nazma Akhter, a garment union leader, said they had been pressing for compensation even before the first anniversary, but their efforts had gone in vain.
"The buyers and the factory owners should fulfil their responsibilities by paying compensation."
Hamida Hossain, chairperson of Ain O Salish Kendra, said due to the delay in providing compensation, many injured workers and families of the dead have fallen into a debt trap.
Shipar said the government has so far distributed Tk 23.55 crore among the Rana Plaza victims.
The Rana Plaza Trust Fund, an initiative of the government, buyers, and industrial trade unions, also failed to collect the targeted funds; a total of $15 million has been collected against a target of $40 million.
The British retail giant Primark has been the main contributor till date, with a total contribution of $12 million.
Moazzem said both the government and BGMEA have fallen behind on their commitments.
The government also promised to bear the victims' cost of treatment, food and transportation, and take a two-year plan to ensure psychological treatment for the survivors.
The CPD study found that the government provided Tk 2 crore from the PM's fund amongst 22 clinics and hospitals that gave substantial support to the victims.
"No long-term scheme has been adopted for victims' treatment. The pledge towards a two-year support programme for the injured is yet to be realised," said CPD.
Speaking at the dialogue, Sona Banu, wife of Abdul Karim, who used to work in a factory housed in Rana Plaza and has remained untraced, said she did not receive any support from the government or BGMEA.
"I got support from only Primark and BILS. I don't know how I will raise my two children without any further support," sobbed Banu, who gave birth to her second child four months after the disaster.
The CPD study also urged the government to pay attention to rescuers who came forward on their own and helped in the rescue operation.
In an on-the-spot telephone conversation at the seminar, Altaf, a rescuer, said he is unable to work now as his hands and legs feel numb.
"I only received Tk 5,000 in prize bonds from Bangladesh Bank," he said, adding that he does not know where to turn to for financial support.
The government also made commitments to take steps to rehabilitate the families of the workers. The army has prepared a list of 1,000 workers who need to be given jobs, a list of amputated workers who need to be rehabilitated and employed, and a list of severely injured workers.
A total of 777 injured persons have been given jobs at various organisations, upon the PM's directive.
"A significant number of families, particularly those of the unidentified and missing workers, remain outside the rehabilitation schemes," said the CPD study.
CPD has closely been monitoring the pledges and deliveries in partnership with Institute of Architects Bangladesh, Ain o Salish Kendra, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, ActionAid Bangladesh, Gono Shakkhorota Abhijan, Transparency International Bangladesh, The Daily Star, Naripokkho, Nijera Kori, Prothom Alo, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, Manusher Jonno Foundation and SHUJAN.