It’s been just over a year since the Tazreen factory fire in Bangladesh, but families of the victims of this tragedy are still looking for help. Although there were an abundance of retailers selling their products inside of the Rana Plaza building before the fire – the same building that collapsed in the fire – it appears that they are nowhere to be found now that it is time to help compensate the victims and their families.
It has been reported that there were over 1,800 injured workers – some of which are still hospitalized – as well as 112 deaths last November 24 in the fire.
Bangladeshi officials are teaming up with the International Labor Organization, as well as other labor groups, and even several retailers, to fund the victims, as well as their families. Among the retailers willing to lend a helping hand are Anglo-Irish Primark, as well as Dutch-German C&A.
Compensation is needed to help pay for medical care, as well as provide enough income to prevent families from having their children drop out of school to enter the workforce to support their families.
“Compensation is so important because so many families are suffering – many families don’t have anyone left to support them,” said the executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, Kalpona Akter. “There’s been a good response from some European brands, but so far none of the U.S. retailers have agreed to pay a single penny for compensation.”
Primark’s general counsel, Paul Lister, says that the company has already spent over $3.2 million in aid to the victims, as well as providing several weeks’ worth of emergency food to over 1,300 families. Additionally, Primark has made available short-term financial aid, and is in the works of developing a compensation fund to help victims for as many as ten years.
“We knew we were having clothes made in Rana Plaza – we announced that on the first day,” he said, in regards to the April 24 building collapse, which killed 1,129 workers. “When you know where your clothes are made, then you take responsibility for the results of where your clothes are being made. We have said very clearly that we would work to support the workers – and the families of the workers – in our supply chain.”
For the past six months, Primark has paid the salaries of all 3,600 Bangladeshis who worked inside the building (not just the 550 factory workers). Primark has also agreed to pay another three months’ salary if no other company comes forward with donations. However, that won’t be necessary, as Canadian-based Loblaw has agreed to help out. Primark claims to have paid at least $136,000 a month to support the $38+ a month minimum wage amount for each worker.
Loblaw’s senior vice president for corporate affairs, Bob Chant, said, “We believe we have a moral obligation to support the workers who are producing our products. Our chairman has voiced disappointment that more brands haven’t stepped up.”
Unfortunately, none of the American companies who reaped the benefits of profits and sales from goods made at Tazreen, as well as the Rana Plaza, are helping out. This includes Walmart, Sears, Children’s Place, and many other American companies.
Even without the U.S.-based retailers contributing, it appears as though this may be one of the largest industrial compensation funds in history, with projections estimating numbers in excess of $70 million to help the victims and their families.
As much as Primark is receiving praise, Walmart is receiving disapproval, mainly because documents reflecting their sales show that two months before the Tazreen fire, 55% of the factory’s production was used towards Walmart contractors.
An advocacy group based out of Washington – known as the International Labor Rights Forum – wrote to Walmart, urging participation in the relief efforts. Walmart’s vice president for ethical sourcing, Rajan Kamalanathan, responded by saying that Walmart had no intentions of participating. He wrote, “there was no production for Walmart in Ran Plaza at the time of the tragedy,” and that any Walmart-related production at Tazreen was not authorized.
The email, which was made public by the labor rights forum, added, “our focus is to positively impact global supply chain practices both by raising our own standards and by partnering with other stakeholders to improve the standards for workers across the industry. We will continue to invest our resources in proactive programs that will address fire and building safety in the garment and textile industry in Bangladesh to help prevent tragedies before they happen.”
When a Sears company spokesman was asked whether they would provide monetary relief to the victims of the Tazreen fires, he said that his company “remains committed to improving conditions in the factories we utilize for production of our merchandise.”
Sears, like Walmart, stated that an unauthorized contractor had been producing on its behalf at Tazreen. Some people believe that the American retailers are refraining from any compensation efforts because they do not want to be associated with an admission of guilt by contributing. Others also believe that with statements coming from Sears and Walmart which claim that any production done was unauthorized, it would appear hypocritical to donate.
But in the end, does it really matter whether they were actually authorized to produce on the companies behalf? Does it really matter whether Sears, Walmart, The Children’s Place, or any other company – American or not – was actually in Tazreen or the Rana Plaza? Shouldn’t the only concern be coming to the aide of many people who need help of any kind in desperate times?
What are your thoughts about this article? It’s been over a year now, since the fires. Do you think these victims and families of victims should still be looking for help, or do you think that the help process is one that takes several years?
If you are interested in donating to the families of this tragedy, you can visit https://org.salsalabs.com/o/677/donate_page/iglhrbangladeshfund. Although this incident is thousands of miles away from us, any donations – no matter how small – are appreciated.
We look forward to hearing your comments. Feel free to comment on this blogpost. For more information, contact a Gacovino Lake attorney at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).