Every so often, an event takes place which makes shockingly visible the reality of fast fashion’s dependence on the dirt-cheap labour and powerlessness of the people making their clothes. Nine-years ago, on 24 April 2013, the event that saw fashion’s mask slip was the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 1,134 women and men, and injuring at least 2,500. It is the one of the world’s deadliest industrial incidents, and the worst ever in the garment sector.

The memorial at the site of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh.

The scale of the horror, and the unprecedented media interest in the lives of garment workers, shamed many retailers into signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. It sought to ensure that around 1,600 documented factories employing 2.5 million workers met the correct fire and standards. 

Crucially, the Accord was legally binding meaning that those factories which did not make the recommended improvements were forced to shut down saving many lives. 

When the Accord ran out, many retailers returned to type and there was very worrying push back from both brands and the Bangladesh government to dilute the agreement making it voluntary. However, tenacious resistance and campaigning by garment worker activists, trade unions and NGOs has retained the necessary accountability and last year, 171 retailers (as of March 2022) signed the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Garment and Textile Industry

It continues to be legally binding, meaning brands and suppliers can be prosecuted if factories fail to meet labour safety standards.  and the agreement commits to expand this safety programme to at least one additional country during 2022 – 2023.

This expansion to other countries cannot come quickly enough. The Clean Clothes Campaign documented at least 47 incidents in garment factories in 2021 – 2022 killing 130 garment workers, and injuring 190 more in Morocco, Pakistan, India, Egypt, and China. And these are just the ones that made the news.

Rubia with a photograph of her sons who died when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013. ©Leigh_McAlea

The Accord in Bangladesh has shown that it is regulation, not voluntary mechanisms that save lives. With this sort of oversight, many of the recent deaths and injuries – fires, chemical leaks, electrocutions, building collapse – could have been prevented, and precious lives saved.

Want to find out which brands haven’t signed the International Accord? Brands like Gap and Ikea for example. Go to the Clean Clothes Campaign’s website to find out and take the action to urge these retailers to sign the agreement to keep their workers safe.

This is also a moment to thank TRAID’s resourceful and courageous international partners, and the garment workers and cotton farmers participating in our work, who are committed to making visible the endemic exploitation in the supply chains making clothes, and creating the change needed to improve lives. Find out more about the work TRAID supports here.