Bangladesh factory collapse leaves trail of
Hizlapara is a neighbourhood of cement tenements and narrow dirt lanes in the scruffy town
of Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh's chaotic capital. It is a quiet area, full of
hardworking families and young couples who go to bed early and save hard. It is quieter
than ever now.
A 20-minute walk away, a trough full of foul water and debris is all that remains of the Rana
Plaza, an eight-storey factory producing cheap clothes for the west, which collapsed six
More than 1,100 people died in the disaster, one of the world's worst industrial accidents,
and many came from Hizlapara. Every morning the workers walked through its streets to
clock in at 8am, climb the single narrow stairwell and start stitching trousers, T-shirts, shorts
and sweatshirts for delivery to European high-street retailers. Most returned long after dark.
Five of the 20 families living at 62A Shobuj Bagh, a lane in Hizlapara, have suffered some
kind of loss. On the ground floor Shima, 25, a seamstress who worked on the fifth floor of
the Rana Plaza, lives with her husband, who is also a garment worker. At night she wakes
screaming with nightmares about falling or being buried. She dreams too of her best friend,
Rekha, who lived nearby and stitched and sewed alongside her. She died when vibrations
from a generator brought down the illegally built upper floors of the factory on to the
workshops below. Shima, 25, who survived
the collapse but her best friend was killed. Photograph: Jason Burke for the Guardian
Then there is Lisa, a once sociable 19-year-old who worked as a helper for 3,000 taka (£25)
a month on the sixth floor of Rana Plaza. She is still in pain from the injuries she sustained
in the collapse and now barely talks.
Others at 62A have lost the income that shielded them from abject poverty. They sit in the
courtyard talking dubiously of finding new jobs and of returning to the villages where they
grew up but which, after flooding and land disputes, they know can no longer provide them
with a living.
Mohammed Shaheen, 18, from 59B Shobuj Bagh, is dead. He too worked on the sixth floor,
cleaning and doing odd jobs. "About 30 to 35 of my friends were killed," his brother,
Ramzan Ali, 20, said. A worker inspects the ruins
of the Rana Plaza complex. Photograph: AP
Bonma, 20, and Tanzina, 18, lived next door, at 60B. They were serious, pious girls who
said their prayers and worked hard. One is missing, the other confirmed dead. Like most of
the 3,500 workers at Rana Plaza, they had been sent home the day before the collapse,
when the factory was shut as a result of an "electrical problem" – in fact large cracks were
being examined by an engineer – and they were still in bed when their supervisor turned
up on their doorstep the next morning to call them into work.
"My mother heard the supervisor tell them: 'If you don't go to work, you won't get any
pay at all,'" their older sister recalled. "Anything they wanted, like makeup or clothes, they
would borrow from me, rather than spend any of their wages." Bonma's marriage to a man
from the neighbourhood, chosen by her parents, was to take place in May.
Many survivors of the Rana Plaza collapse talk about compensation. Bangladesh has made
huge economic progress since the days when it was a byword for human disaster, dubbed a
basket case by Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state. The country of 160 million
is on track to meet many of its international benchmarks in areas such as maternal mortality
But it has much ground to make up. Literacy is a miserable 59% and, as elsewhere in south
Asia, any incremental progress is fragile and uneven. For almost every family whose lives
are better, there is one whose lives are unchanged or in many cases considerably worse.
Most of the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse have had their hospital expenses paid by the
government or the Bangladesh Garment and Exporters Association (BMGEA), an industry
body representing owners. Many families have received an immediate payment of 20,000
taka to cover basic funeral expenses. As most of the victims have been buried in distant
ancestral villages, the money is barely adequate, their relatives say. A further sum of between 100,000 and 600,000 taka is to be disbursed by the government
to bereaved families at an unspecified date. Some cash has been pledged by big western
retailers such as Primark and Matalan, which sourced goods from Rana Plaza.