While European companies work to set up compensation funds for victims of Bangladesh factory disasters, retailers in the U.S. refuse to aid the families of more than 1,200 workers who died while making their clothing in the last year.
In November of 2012, the Dhaka fire — the deadliest factory fire in Bangladesh history — erupted in the Tazreen Fashion factory, killing at least 117 people and injuring 200 others.
In late April, the Rana Plaza building outside Dhaka collapsed, killing 1,129 garment workers.
A handful of retailers, including an Anglo-Irish company and a Dutch-German company, are working with the International Labor Organization and Bangladeshi officials to set up long-term compensation funds for the families of victims, the New York Times reported.
But Walmart, Sears, Children’s Place and the other American companies which had goods produced in Tazreen or Rana Plaza have refused to aid victims.
“Compensation is so important because so many families are suffering — many families don’t have anyone left to support them,” Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, told the Times. “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.”
Many of the victims of the Dhaka fire feel forgotten a year later, according to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
“I am not able to work, and I don’t think that I will be able to work anymore,” Shahanaz Begum, a former Tazreen worker, told the AFL-CIO. “Now, my life seems worthless.”
Many of those injured in both disasters were paralyzed and can no longer provide for their families.
“I cannot see through my right eye,” Begum said. “I have problems in my spinal cord and can’t even walk properly. I cannot sit properly as my left leg was broken, my right leg is filled with blood clots and I cannot lift heavy weights.”
Begum’s daughter also worked at Tazreen and suffers both emotional and physical trauma since the fire.
Primark, an Anglo-Irish company, is leading the efforts for compensation funds. Primark’s general counsel Paul Lister said the company knew right away, the day Rana Plaza collapsed, that it had a responsibility to victims and their families. The company provided emergency food assistance to 1,300 families.
“We knew we were having clothes made in Rana Plaza — we announced that on the first day,” Lister said. “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.”
Primark has already donated $3.2 million in aid. The company is hoping to set up compensation funds that will pay victims for years or even decades.
When 29 garment workers died in the Hameem district in Bangladesh in December of 2010, Target, Gap and J.C. Penney all joined with retailers to set up a modest compensation fund.