Why Won’t We Learn from the Survivors of the Rana Plaza Disaster?

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Management turned the generators on. As they began to rumble, so did the building.

“It felt like the floor under my feet was moving,” Mr. Hridoy said. “Then it was disappearing.”

Ms. Begum, two floors below Mr. Hridoy, was sewing jeans for a French brand — she doesn’t remember which one — when the concrete ceiling fell on her, landing on her torso and her right hand. Her long hair became entangled in the sewing machine, she said, “and I couldn’t free myself because my hand was stuck.” Sixteen hours later, neighbors who joined the hundreds of emergency responders at the site rescued her. “They showed up with iron rods and pipes, and pried me out,” she said. “They said my guts were all over the place.”

She began to weep as she retold the story. “I passed out and came to my senses 27 days later,” she said. She received no government compensation but did get a bit of financial assistance from nonprofits. “Nothing from the brands,” she said. “When I come here,” she said, looking at the void that was Rana Plaza, “I feel like I don’t want to live anymore.”

Housebound Shiuli Begum was a sewing jeans for Joe Fresh and Primark, when, she recalled, “Everything went dark and I felt things falling all over me.” She lost consciousness, and 36 hours later woke up in a hospital. She also received no compensation, not even the 45,000 taka (roughly $530) pledged by brands. “You had to lobby for the money,” she said. “And I was too infirm.” Her husband is a day laborer and her caregiver.

Mr. Hridoy was the only one of the three who was compensated by the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, a $30 million endowment underwritten by brands. He used the $600 he got to open his drugstore, and he also founded the Savar Rana Plaza Survivors Association. It currently has 300 members. He does not, however, hold out hope that anything has really changed. “The labor law in this country is pro-owner, not pro-worker,” he said.

When oversight reverts to local governance, he said, “all will return to how it was when Rana Plaza happened.”


Akram Hosen contributed reporting.

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