International Workers Memorial Day this year comes at the end of a week that started with the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza mass industrial homicide in Bangladesh, in which a preventable factory collapse killed at least 1138 garment workers, mainly young women, and left thousands injured or bereaved.

We call Rana Plaza a mass industrial homicide, taking the lead from trade unionists in Bangladesh, because the bosses, the factory owner and the fashion brands sourcing from Rana Plaza could have prevented it – but they chose not to. We say mass industrial homicide because prior to Rana Plaza there had already been plenty of “wake-up calls” for the global fashion industry, including the Tazreen Fashions fire in 2012, which killed 112 workers.

We say mass industrial homicide because when cracks appeared in the Rana Plaza building everyone knew it was unsafe, but despite workers’ protests factory bosses under pressure from global brands ordered workers to enter by threatening to dock a month’s wages. We say mass industrial homicide because the fashion industry extracts profit by driving a global race-to-the-bottom in working conditions, rewarding suppliers that pay poverty wages and suppress trade union organising. We say mass industrial homicide because on International Workers Memorial Day 2023, ten years on from Rana Plaza, global fashion brands are still profiting with impunity from working conditions that kill garment workers.

We know that fashion brands will concede nothing without a demand. This week, alongside Rana Plaza Solidarity Collective, we organised the actions and events described below, adding our voices to the hundreds of thousands of workers around the world demanding: “Rana Plaza, Never Again!

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On Sunday 23 April we took to the streets of central London to call out the high street fashion brands with blood on their hands. We denounced Primark, United Colours of Benetton and Zara: brands that sourced from Rana Plaza, pocketing profits from the miserable working conditions that led to the deadly disaster, yet dragged their feet on paying into the compensation fund for victims.

We left commemorative plaques at Primark and Zara and laid wreaths outside Benetton. We demanded Urban Outfitters and Levi’s stop risking workers lives and sign the International Accord, the only mechanism shown to improve factory safety through enforceability, independent oversight and trade union power. We called on H&M to ensure garment workers in their supply chain are paid a living wage, and heard about regulation needed to change the balance for garment workers.

We ended our Cost of Fashion walking tour by honouring, in grief and in rage, the memory of the 1138 people killed at Rana Plaza, reading the names and ages of every worker whose life was stolen on 24 April 2013 at the doorstep of Primark.

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On Monday 24 April, we held Rana Plaza anniversary events in East London and in Leicester. In East London we joined a memorial at Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel in the pouring rain, where our friends at Rainbow Collective had installed a beautiful memorial of 1138 clay hearts, one for each life lost, made with the help of community groups from across the East End, hanging in front of a banner of the 1138 names. We heard about the devastating tragedy and Rana Plaza survivors’ ongoing struggle for justice from Mayisha Begum, Labour Behind the Label, Nijjor Manush, Rainbow Collective, No Sweat, and Apsana Begum MP who also laid a wreath.

We then went to a packed Toynbee Hall, where Andrew O’Neill spoke with Mayisha Begum and Afzal Rahman about Rana Plaza and workers resistance in Bangladesh and Rainbow Collective screened their film ‘Rana Plaza 10 Years On’. In Leicester, trade unions, community groups, academics and a local MP gathered for an evening educational event, film screening and dinner. We watched the Rainbow Collective film and heard talks from local trade unionists about the struggle that UK workers face and how there are many similarities in terms of brand power and risks for workers. 

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On Wednesday 26, we held a Parliamentary event with the APPG for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion and Fashion Roundtable in Portcullis House, hosted by John McNally MP. We exhibited powerful photographs taken by Rainbow Collective and by Bangladeshi photographer and activist Taslima Akhter, showing the Rana Plaza collapse and workers and their families’ organised resistance in the decade since then. We screened Rainbow Collective’s film, through which Rana Plaza survivors addressed attendees about their ongoing pain and struggle for justice. 

We then heard from MPs and campaigners. Kerry McCarthy MP emphasised the need for corporate accountability throughout supply chains as opposed to consumer choice. Liz Twist MP spoke in support of a Fashion Watchdog – “a low cost intervention with the potential to deliver much better for workers” – explaining that workers rights abuses are often driven by poor relationship between retailers and suppliers in the garment industry. Rushanara Ali MP spoke about the work she had been involved in to advance workers’ rights in Bangladesh, in her capacity as Chair of the APPG on Bangladesh and as Trade Envoy, and underlined the need to keep up the pressure  at a domestic and international level, saying: “companies think they can get away with treating people in developing economies as though they don’t have value and that has to stop.”

Claudia Webbe MP spoke about the open secret of miserable conditions faced by garment workers in her constituency in Leicester – “we are seeing prison houses for workers, people whose lives are submitted to a ‘just-in-time’ production” – and denounced the government for for failing to tackle the situation. Rupa Huq MP connected the environmentally harmful fashion industry to the effects of climate change, particularly for Bangladesh. Mark Dearn from Corporate Justice Coalition called on MPs to pledge to support a new law on Business, Human Rights and the Environment to ensure corporate accountability for abuses in global supply chains and Hilary Marsh from Transform Trade encouraged MPs to support a Fashion Watchdog to regulate the garment industry.

Ten MPs signed the Rana Plaza Book of Commitment to honour the 1138 people who lost their lives in the Rana Plaza disaster and show their commitment to supporting new rules to ensure safety and human rights in fashion supply chains: John McNally MP, Catherine West MP, Liz Twist MP, Rushanara Ali MP, Kerry McCarthy MP, Claudia Webbe MP, Rupa Huq MP, Carol Monaghan MP, Douglas Chapman MP and Ronnie Cowan MP. MPs also left with a Rana Plaza 10th Anniversary Policy Briefing setting out actions they can take to ensure an industrial homicide like Rana Plaza can never happen again.

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This International Workers Memorial Day we remember the lives of the 1138 workers killed at Rana Plaza a decade ago on 24 April 2013, and we commit to continuing the struggle, shoulder to shoulder with garment workers and trade unions around the world, for factory safety and workers power in the global garment industry.