Development and Change Journal: four papers about Rana Plaza and its aftermath
What happened to Rana Plaza after its collapse? What happened to the seamtress labour rights? Did Fashion Revolution change anything? How the workers in the fashion system are organizing themselves after the Rana Plaza disaster? Check it out some answers in four papers
Development and Change
Development and Change is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal devoted to the critical analysis and discussion of current issues of development. It was stablished by the International Institute of Social Studies in 1969, in response to the perceived need for a multidisciplinary journal dealing with all aspects of development studies.
The Volume 51, Number 5, September 2020, of Development and Change journal brings four papers about Rana Plaza and it aftermath.
This Introduction synthesizes the key themes of this special cluster of articles and explores the implications of the three contributions on garment supply chains after the Rana Plaza disaster. The three articles examine the perspectives of key stakeholders in garment value chains — global buyers, managers of garment factories in Bangladesh, and workers at these factories — and analyses their responses to the new governance initiatives that emerged in the aftermath of Rana Plaza. Placing the contrasting perspectives of these stakeholders alongside each other starkly reveals how their different positions within hierarchically organized global value chains form the particular lens through which they view post‐Rana Plaza initiatives. This special cluster scrutinizes the particular understandings of these stakeholders and reveals the very different capacity for voice and influence that they bring to bear in shaping outcomes. It reflects on the contradictory imperatives faced by actors in the garment industry caught between a logic of competition on the one hand and global labour standards norms on the other. The Introduction concludes by examining the prospects for a re‐embedding of the market in global value chains via the activation of civil society.
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (‘the Accord’) has received both praise and criticism concerning its implications for corporate responsibility and power. This article contributes to the debate by situating the Accord within a broader set of activities that buyers are engaged in to promote better labour conditions in their supply chains. The authors identify three approaches of buyer engagement: auditing, capacity building and advocacy. Drawing on interviews conducted with European brands and retailers, the article shows how buyers perceive the merits and challenges of these approaches, and whether and how they discharge responsibility and power through these activities. The study shows that the Accord is seen primarily as part of the auditing approach with a key feature being its use of collective leverage as a means of enforcement. While greater buyer power has not necessarily been accompanied by greater responsibility, the article highlights heterogeneity among buyers in how they take up different approaches, painting a more nuanced picture of buyer responsibility and power.
The Rana Plaza factory disaster in April 2013, which resulted in the death of a large number of factory workers and injured many more in Bangladesh’s ready‐made garment industry, highlighted the sustained failure of the government of Bangladesh to address safety in the workplace. In the wake of the tragedy two significant transnational governance initiatives emerged — the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (hereafter the Accord) and the Alliance for Bangladesh Workers’ Safety (hereafter the Alliance). For the first time, different key stakeholders worked together to address fire, electrical and structural safety of factory buildings. This study analyses the perceptions of factory managers in Bangladesh regarding the Accord and Alliance agreements. The article argues that although there have been significant breakthroughs in terms of developing a culture of safety adhered to by the government and entrepreneurs, the suppliers have encountered difficulties in implementing these initiatives. The limited support from buyers has posed a major challenge for the sustainability of these two multi‐stakeholder agreements.
The scale of the tragedy at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, in which more than 1,000 garment factory workers died when the building collapsed in April 2013, galvanized a range of stakeholders to take action to prevent future disasters and to acknowledge that business as usual was not an option. Prominent in these efforts were the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (hereafter the Accord) and the Alliance for Bangladesh Workers’ Safety (hereafter the Alliance), two multi‐stakeholder agreements that brought global buyers together in a coordinated effort to improve health and safety conditions in the ready‐made garment industry. These agreements represented a move away from the buyer‐driven, compliance‐based model, which hitherto dominated corporate social responsibility initiatives, to a new cooperation‐based approach. The Accord in particular, which included global union federations and their local union partners as signatories and held global firms legally accountable, was described as a ‘paradigm shift’ with the potential to improve industrial democracy in Bangladesh. This article is concerned with the experiences and perceptions of workers in the Bangladesh garment industry regarding these new initiatives. It uses a purposively designed survey to explore the extent to which these initiatives brought about improvements in wages and working conditions in the garment industry, to identify where change was slowest or absent and to ask whether the initiatives did indeed represent a paradigm shift in efforts to enforce the rights of workers.