Ethical Style: Revisiting Rana

By Anna Lee
Rana Plaza. Picture / AP

Two years ago on Friday, over 3630 people were crushed and an estimated 1300 people died after eight stories of concrete and heavy machinery collapsed. Many children were orphaned. 

At 8.57am on April 24, 2013, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the illegally-built Rana Plaza garment factory – a major supplier to some of the world's most popular fast-fashion chain stores — collapsed in what was later described as the deadliest "accidental" structural failure in modern history.

The plaza was built in 2006 by Sohel Rana to house a number of shops, a bank and a creche after allegedly falsifying deeds to acquire full possession. Built without authorisation on a pond, Rana added three more floors, using substandard materials, to the original five to house even more garment factories.

The day before, the building had been inspected by an engineer after explosion-like sounds were heard by workers. After significant cracks were found in the supporting columns, the building was declared unsafe, evacuated, and the shop and bank on the lower floors were closed. Rana was seen swatting away journalists claiming that plaster on a wall was merely broken. The next day workers were ordered by Rana back into the building.

Fearing for their safety, hundreds of workers resisted. However, under immense pressure from management, threat that a month's pay would be docked and most already living off the skin of their teeth, they were forced to return. Little did they know that  under an hour later, the worst "accident" in the garment industry was about to unfold.  

As the extent of the human toll was revealed, bodies of the crushed  were still being found 17 days later, horror stories of victims having to amputate their own limbs spread like wildfire among Bangladesh's 3.5 million garment workers.

With offers of assistance from the United Nations denied by the corrupt Government and millions of workers fuelled by grief and loss, riots and altercations broke out between police and workers, with workers demanding a living wage and safe work environment.

Two years later, many of the problems are still unresolved. Hundreds of bodies are still unidentified – or haven't been found, the compensation that was promised has not  been paid to victims or families in its entirety and there are still sprawling hospital wards littered with the wounded.

Minimal changes have been made to the way workers are treated. They still work insufferable hours in inhumane and unacceptable conditions in unstable buildings for a pittance, creating substandard clothing for Western societies who have largely ignored the suffering. Over 10 companies that were  involved in the incident have avoided paying compensation to those affected.

Put simply: this could happen all over again and little is being done about it.


1. Get involved
Join the Fashion Revolution movement this Friday by wearing an item of clothing inside-out with the label visible and post on social media using the hashtags #fashrev and #whomademyclothes

2. Educate yourself
Read our Ethical Style column every fortnight, including An Introduction, 10 Brands You Need To Know About and Are You Up For The Job? 

3. Ask the hard questions
Next time you go shopping, ask shops and brands where their clothes are made and in what conditions. Brands who produce ethically will have no trouble telling you where exactly your clothing comes from.

4. Buy less
Do you really need another black T-shirt? Get off the consumer wheel and buy only what you truly need.

• Pick up a copy of a special issue of Viva this Wednesday, with ways to shop with a clear conscience, interviews with those raising awareness of the true impact of fashion on people and the environment, and 10 ways to dine with sustainability in mind.  

Share this article: