No Justice for the Dead in Bangladesh

Source: The Nation

Months after the Rana Plaza factory disaster, victims’ families have received little to no compensation.

A foreign visitor is never left alone to contemplate the ruins of Rana Plaza. On a searing hot August morning, sorrowful people gathered with fistfuls of documents and pictures, jostling for my attention. They were desperate for some acknowledgment of the daughter, son, wife or husband they had lost when the eight-story factory building pancaked on April 24, crushing more than 1,100 people—most of them garment workers filling orders for Western brands. As the crowd swelled around me, faint pleas became full-throated demands, and I soon found myself backed against the barbed wire fence that fronts the disaster site, now a pool of dark water. My only way out was to write down the name and phone number of each and every person, with a vague assurance that something would be done.

One woman, Rashida Begum, kept her distance. She wore a bright-orange sari and clutched a laminated picture against her chest. “My daughter,” she said when I approached. Her name was Nasima; she was 16 years old and had earned $110 a month sewing pants for New Wave Bottoms. The day before the accident, Nasima and her fellow workers had been sent home early when huge cracks were spotted in the walls. Her mother said Nasima was so scared that she couldn’t eat, but as the family breadwinner, she had little choice but to return to work when her bosses ordered her back. She didn’t want to lose her job.

Now in dire need of financial help, Rashida returns to the site with the hope that someone may be there to offer answers. Some days, she rides a bus to Dhaka from her home in Savar to join the protesters rallying for compensation in front of the downtown headquarters of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Exporters Association (BGMEA), the powerful trade body that represents the $20 billion-a-year industry. A black banner out front reads: We Will Not Forget You. But Rashida has little chance of being compensated. Because Nasima’s body wasn’t recovered intact, she lacks proof that her daughter was among the dead. So she goes home empty-handed.

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