Do you remember where you were and how you felt when you heard about the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh?
I remember it so vividly, as if it were yesterday.
I remember the horror at the way the number of deaths kept creeping up as they continued to find bodies in the rubble. Then we hit the 1,000 mark, and yet we continued to find dead bodies. Then we reached a tentative number of over 1,130 dead - but even then we weren’t quite sure because the rubble was so deep. (Official number: 1,138)
I remember the immense sadness of that photo that was circulating that said it all, of the final moment of two of the workers who found each other and embraced as the building collapsed. That photo gripped the world: these are people, just like us, with their hopes and dreams, their families back home, and their humanity.
I remember the anger when we found out that the textile workers had seen the cracks, had known it wasn’t safe, and had asked the building’s owners to not come back in to work. Shops and banks had been evacuated. And yet the textile workers had been forced to come back to work and hadn’t been able to say no.
And I remember the shame when we started to uncover the clothes’ labels - with the global realisation starting to dawn that these workers (mainly women) were at work, making clothes for us - all of these Western brands that didn’t yet know that their clothes were being made there.
And here we are ten years later.
A lot has changed, and yet a lot hasn’t changed. To honour the victims, I’m going to focus on the mark their deaths have left on the world.
The world started to understand the sheer complexity of clothes sourcing - all of these things that had been known for a long time in the industry but that people on the outside didn’t yet know (the sub-contracting, the unsafe buildings, the intimidation of workers, the failure of the audit system, etc.).
The world started to see that companies had a particular role to play when they were sourcing from a higher-risk context and didn’t have adequate due diligence processes in place. And that companies had to work together to tackle these endemic severe human rights impacts. The concepts of collective creative leverage, remedy, and the continuum between contribution and direct linkage in the UN Guiding Principles came to life.
And the world started to realise we needed to legislate human rights due diligence. I’m in Paris now (moderating a session at the OECD) and here I was also, 6 years ago where the ‘Rana Plaza law’ was passed, the first due diligence law of its time so that “Rana Plaza - plus jamais” (never again). This national law has paved the way for where we are today at the EU level (see our first weekly update below).
So here we are. Ten years later, honouring the victims and their families, reflecting on the changed world, and knowing that we need to do so much more.
It was lovely to see some of you in Paris, and see you all soon, ✨