Fashion Revolution Week: Remembering Rana Plaza

April 27, 2023
Fashion Revolution Week 2023

Fashion Revolution Week

Fashion Revolution Week is an annual campaign focused on uniting fashion activism in response to the injustices present in the fashion industry. It calls for systemic change in an industry which notoriously lacks transparency and exploits the rights of garment workers. Fashion Revolution Week 2023 holds a particular significance as it marks 10 years since the Rana Plaza disaster – the event that ignited the transformative campaign for social justice.

Remembering Rana Plaza

On April 24th 2013, the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh collapsed. Rana Plaza hosted some of the world’s most well known clothing labels including Primark and Mango. Unable to escape the collapse, 1138 garment workers lost their lives as the eight-storey building diminished to rubble. A further 2500 workers were left with injuries as they were removed from the debris in the hours and days that followed the collapse. This marked the Rana Plaza disaster as the fourth largest industrial disaster known to modern history.

Whilst the Rana Plaza collapse was not the first garment factory disaster, it exposed the widespread lack of transparency in global fashion supply chains and the lack of worker visibility. The revelations that emerged from the collapse confirmed that the basic human rights of garment workers across the world are all too often overlooked and that the true cost of this is the loss of human lives. 

Towards a Fashion Revolution 

Fashion Revolution emerged from the Rana Plaza disaster and has evolved into a global movement which demands change to ensure we never see repeat tragedies like Rana Plaza. Their mission is simple. For 10 years, Fashion Revolution has been campaigning for a safe, clean, fair and transparent fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment and values of people over profit. Fashion Revolution’s mission revolves around three major themes: the business of fashion, materials and mindset. More details can be found in the Fashion Revolution Manifesto created to mark 10 years since Rana Plaza, as we come together as a global community to bring the manifesto into reality.

But why do we need a fashion revolution? Because 10 years on, our clothes are still being made by some of the poorest and undervalued people in the world (80% of whom are women), whose rights are continuously being compromised. In 2019, the Workers Rights Consortium published a report which shone a brighter light on the repression, violence and intimidation targeted towards Bangladesh Garment workers who are campaigning for nothing more than a living wage. According to the WRC, the cost of campaigning has been the loss of life for some, as they are shot dead by police as retribution for speaking out.

Fashion Revolution provides the platform to urge brands to prioritise worker welfare and safety and environmental safeguards above shareholder profit, forcing brands to be held to a greater account in hope that this violence can stop. 

Fair Trade in fashion – Fairtrade International

Fairtrade International’s Fairtrade Textile Standard Programme aims to address some of the cracks the Rana Plaza disaster exposed by engaging all actors across supply chains and supporting workers at all stages of production, from cotton fields to garment factories. The Fairtrade Textile Standard Programme has four main objectives: workers rights, creating a living wage, improving health and safety, and envisioning new modes of auditing. The Fairtrade Textile Standard facilitates workers in their ability to unionise, as well as train workers on their rights and democratic representation within their companies. All in all, increasing worker visibility and agency within a system known for its lack of transparency. 

Safety persists to be a major challenge faced in textile factories, the Fairtrade Textile Standard sets criteria for safe workplaces and buildings to build resilience against the risk of repeat disasters like the Rana Plaza collapse. 

Fair Trade in fashion – World Fair Trade Organisation

The World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) also supports the fair payment of garment workers through the Fair Payment Process, which balances the needs of the worker with the needs of being a successful business. When calculating fair payments, WFTO recognises that a one size fits all approach will not suffice. It believes that it is essential to focus on creating an on-going dialogue with all relevant parties, encouraging participation and focusing on the different needs that arise from local contexts when determining fair prices. 

Another guiding principle of The World Fair Trade Organisation is gender equality. Gender equality is promoted through WFTO Principle 6,  ‘Non-discrimination, gender equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment and Freedom of Association’. The organisation has a clear policy on promoting gender equality and ensures that women have the ability to engage with regulatory frameworks that shape their lives. The organisation recognises women’s full employment rights and is committed to ensuring that women receive their full statutory employment benefits. Given that 80% of the world’s garment industry is made up of women, when businesses adhere to the goals outlined by the WFTO principles they are helping to protect the garment industry and the fundamental rights of women. 

Buying products with the WFTO Product Label is a symbol of assurance, a promise to consumers that the brand is transparent in their relationship with producers and adheres to the highest of industry standards. For organisations who have gained membership of WFTO, they gain credibility and an identity attached to an international guarantee system as well as a place of learning and knowledge sharing. 

Fair Trade is a vital component to the solution. Alongside organisations like Fashion Revolution and Labour Behind the Label we can change our relationship with fashion and alter trade to benefit all. 

Serving justice 10 years on

What has changed in the 10 years since Rana Plaza? In 2013, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh started a 5-year agreement to pursue workplace safety in the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector. In 2021, signatories of the original Accord renewed their partnership to establish the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. The agreement holds signatories to account to continue their commitment to workplace safety programmes with an additional commitment to exploring the scope of Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) issues present in the garment industry.

The International Accord highlights why binding obligations and the inclusion of worker’s voices in decision making are vital to envisioning a fairer fashion industry. The Accord and its stakeholders have contributed to a safer workplace for over 2 million garment workers in Bangladesh. Setting a global precedent for a path towards justice for garment workers and a more equitable and transparent textile industry. 

What can you do to support a fashion revolution? 

Slowly we are witnessing a change in tide in the fashion industry as consumers demand more. Engaging with where our clothes come from is no longer a matter of mere curiosity, but a matter of urgency. Recognising that every purchase has power, the Fashion Revolution movement encourages conscious and ethical consumer engagement in all aspects of the supply chain. So what can you do to support a fashion revolution?

  1. Engage with the #whomademyclothes campaign. This helps to hold fashion brands to account on their transparency and commitment to creating a safe and fair environment for their workers
  2. Shop Fair Trade where you can, look for Fairtrade mark and organisations with WFTO membership 
  3. Sign the Fashion Revolution Manifesto to show your support for systemic change in the global fashion industry
  4. Write a postcard to your local policymaker to ask what they’re doing to create a fairer, safer, and more transparent fashion industry using Fashion Revolution’s helpful template