Following years of deterioration and cracks in the building, nearly 2,525 people were also injured when the Rana Plaza factory crumpled in the city of Dhaka back on April 24, 2013, leaving questions about the safety and future of corporate workers, many of whom are contracted for small wages in often deplorable working conditions.
Last Thursday, Congresswoman Grace Meng hosted the vigil in memory of those lost, but also pointed out that more than 1,000 have died in other similar accidents over the last year in Bangladesh.
“A year after the deadly factor collapse, Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi-American community continue to reel from this horrible tragedy,” Meng said. “A year after the disaster, we remember all who perished in this awful tragedy, and we renew our call for American retailers to do better to protect the workers that make their products.”
Meng added that Walmart has been the only corporation to agree to fire safety standards, while 14 others have refused. She added that she has since advocated for a set of safety standards to improve the conditions by strengthening workers organizations.
“Over the past year I have been working with my colleagues in Congress and our labor partners to find ways to hold the U.S. government accountable for the outsourcing and promoting of sweatshops,” she said.
Mazeda A. Uddin, a Bangladeshi citizen, human rights activist and the women’s chair of the Alliance of South Asian American Labor (ASAAL), said she hopes there is a comprehensive strategy, as there has been little response from the corporate community following the collapse.
“There has been an assault on workers' rights in the recent decades all across the globe,” she said. “However, the plight of the Bangladeshi garment workers is particularly horrible. No worker anywhere should have to endure the horrid working conditions, unconscionable low wages, theft and threats to their lives that our sisters in Bangladesh have to endure on a daily basis.”
Stuart Applebaum, president of RWDSU, traveled to Bangladesh after the accident to assess the current working conditions, and feared more death is inevitable unless something is done to protect these workers.
“They were mothers, they were fathers, they were brothers and sisters, and those deaths and injuries could have been avoided,” Applebaum said. “Whether here or in Bangladesh, all workers should be treated with respect.”
He added that while more than 150 businesses like H&M have signed onto the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety code, a legally binding set of standards between labor organizations and retailers, just 14 of them are American.
“Shamefully, most American retailers here in the United States have refused to do so, and they know who they are,” Applebaum said. “Target, The Gap, Children’s Place, JCPenny, you need to step up and join the accord.”
Public Advocate Letitia James noted that many of the workers that were lost in the collapse last year, and like many since, have been women workers. She also pointed out the importance of keeping the pressure on in the years to come to ensure more corporations follow in creating safer working conditions.
“We pray today for their souls, but we commit ourselves today to improving safety, fire and inspections standards in Bangladesh and all over the globe,” James said. “All of us must demand that these multinational corporations respect the human rights of all workers.”