Sunday, 12 May 2013

Bangladesh disaster

I'm morally obliged to link to one or other report of this awful tragedy.  While the deaths of three innocent people in Boston dominated our news front pages for days, this one was reported consistently around page five, and with few headline links on-line.

I therefore quote verbatim from Inhabitat:
"As the number of confirmed deaths from the deadly Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh pushes past 1,000, a more-heartening number is emerging. More than 1 million people have signed petitions calling for brands and retailers sourcing from the South Asian nation to commit to the legally binding Bangladesh Building and Fire Safety Agreement, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, an alliance of organizations in 15 European countries dedicated to improving working conditions in the global garment and sportswear industries."
Actually, a few comments.  First, neither this Inhabitat post, nor Bloomberg, nor quite a few other sites I read reporting the petition, actually provide a link to it.  I can't help wondering if they think it will protect their fashion industry advertising placements.  Just seems strange.  As a consequence, their figures are wrong, too.  Just now when I found the petition, it was only barely over 900,500, and certainly trying to get to the magic million.  Help them, sign the petition at .

Second, focusing so singularly on the 'fashion industry' is a knee-jerk reaction.  The whole problem is much bigger and more complex. 

I am not making excuses for the brands that source exploitatively cheap productand on-sell for exploitatively expensive mark-ups.  But I suspect the Wal-Marts and the Targets and the K-marts source more by volume, and supply to us in developed countries for unsustainably low prices, so that we can all make our comparatively huge discretionary spending go much further than it should. So the clothing retail industry has a lot to answer for.

But, economics being what it is, you do have to wonder what would be the jobs that would feed the families in Bangladesh, if they were not supplying goods more cheaply than countries with which they compete?  So you can't just assume that a building collapse that kills a 1000 workers is caused only by an unequal but symbiotic relationship between a western retailer and poor Asian labour.
A building collapses like that because of malpractice and corruption.  Those human failings are unambiguously causal.  The European and American retailers committing to an agreement for safe practice are only going to help if they can directly improve building inspections to stop the reinforcing being taken out of the formwork the night before the concrete pour, if they can find an honest government building inspector, if they can have a person on site to stop the factory owner locking the fire escape doors for whatever bizarre reasons they do that, and stop a myriad of other local problems from adding up to a setting in which these tragedies are predictable.
And even when I get to this point in the rant, I remind myself of all the people who do somehow make a functioning democracy work in a place like Bangladesh or India, just to make sure I don't accidentally give the impression that those countries are somehow hopelessly ensnared by the difficulties I tick off so glibly.

Where is this post going?  Wish I knew.  Other than to say, pay attention.  Sign the petition.  Then do something to help.  Anything that acknowledges that we live in one world.


Warren Zhang said...

This post reminds me of the news report I read recently which questioned the building quality of the reconstruction in Sichuan, China, after the 8 magnitude earthquake in 2008. The report states that during the earthquake happened earlier this year in Sichuan, most of the buildings in Baoxing which is a county in Sichuan were seriously damaged. Among these buildings there were numbers of buildings including schools and hospitals which were constructed after the last earthquake in 2008. These buildings were believed to be able to withstand earthquakes with a magnitude of 8 to 9, but they seem to be extremely vulnerable in front of the magnitude 7 earthquake this time. When the quake struck most of these buildings collapsed instantly. In my memory when the reconstruction first started in Sichuan after the 2008's earthquake the government and related departments were telling the public that they will learn from this tragedy and take the quality of building construction seriously. It all sounds so ridiculous for me now.

As a person who grew up in a country like China where collapse of newly finished buildings and bridges is something you often see on newspaper, it is easy for me to understand the complexity behind the cause of this Bangladesh disaster. From the construction of these factories to selling the product at western countries, each phase of this economy cycle is responsible for this tragedy. And also the corruption of the government plays an important part as well. In some other photos of this incident you can clearly see that on top of the collapsed building there are considerable amount of steel rods sticking out of the roof indicating that the building is still under construction and more levels(if not 1) are being built on top of the original building. It is clear to see that these garment factories were eagerly wanting to increase the production rate without wasting too much money and space. Actually in some reports the local people did tell the reporter that many of the factories in that area were adding levels illegally ignoring safety issues and the local building code. The managing system of this building also appears to have crucial problems as there were cracks were detected in the building a day before the collapse happened, but on that day there were still about 3000 people working in it.

In the daily news of the National Geographic website they reviewed more technical aspect of this incident. Analysing the image resource after the collapse experts found out the main building material of this building is concrete but it doesn't seems to have enough steel reinforcement. The load distribution also is a big problem especially for this kind of industrial workplace with large open spaces. Now I think I have to reconsider the importance of those load distribution test I did in my construction class.

I understand that it is hard to make a change since there are so many factors affecting the building qualities in developing countries. Not only those European company want to save their labour cost but also Bangladesh needs those jobs for its economy, those workers need to feed their family. And after all people like me needs those finished products with low price. I remember my high school uniform was made in Bangladesh and most of the stuff I use today are made in China. I also don't think that Guilt-free Clothing petition is going to help alot but I signed it just now because I think at least we can all dedicate our trivial strength. For myself I can help preventing tragedy like this happen again by simply participating in activity like this or just be more responsible as a future architect. It is people just like me that are slowly changing this world and maybe someday it will become a better place.


National Geographic daily news

South China Morning Post

「Mil」 said...

When I browsed through the pictures regarding this disaster, I saw nearby buildings with exposed concrete slabs and stairs, and messy reinforcement that sticks out to the sky; the building do look extremely dangerous but it could be designed on purpose to evade the huge amount of tax that are to be paid once the building is 'finished' according to my traveling experience at Cairo, where they have almost everyone living in these ruin-like buildings.

But that certainly is not an excuse for the collapse. This original post mentioned that Bangladesh people won't be able to feed themselves if they do not provide cheap labor for western retailer; if you look up 'Bangladesh textile industry' on wiki, you will find it dominated 77% of this country's merchandise exports, generating $19 billion every year and providing jobs for around 4 million people. There is no doubt the industry reduced poverty and improved female's social status (as they are the dominant part of the working population). But I still think western retailer are to be blamed for this disaster, when Bangladesh is the second exporter to China: you can imagine the cost would be lowered further by local investors to make sure Bangladesh labour is competitive. Therefore worker's wage is reduced and is asked to work for longer hours; extra illegal storeys are added to the top of existing building; poor building conditions are covered by factory director's lies while commercials at the bottom level shut down immediately after the inspector discovered serious cracks on the facade.

This is not the first 'accident' collapse in Bangladesh, and there had also been fires that killed hundreds in recent years. I just signed the petition before writing this comment, and I think it has gained enough amount of exposure or concern to become a trigger for improvement. I checked different news sites and found out that four people are arrested, independent commissions for checking vulnerable factories are demanded, minimum wage was established for this industry, and workers started rioting. Other Asian exporters have of course experienced this; the situation was worse when Chinese provided labour for Asian retailers, but things change, life standard gets better, and now the minimum wage has raised by 15% and workers' safety and health is ensured (that caused western retailer to find cheaper labour in other Asian countries though). Hopefully Bangladesh can improve from this case on.


rockyhe said...

Who is responsible for the Rana Plaza tragedy and what can we do to help the garment workers in Bangladesh?

Garment industry building situation in Bangladesh:
The garment industry in Bangladesh supply the world with cheap clothing. The poor working conditions, low wages, unsafe and unhygienic factories are really commonplace right across this country. With the rapid expansion of the ready- garments industry in Bangladesh has resulted in an increased demand of high-rise buildings. As was the case in Rana Plaza, many building have been converted in factories and sometimes the owners of buildings add extra floors without proper permission and meet no building codes.

Reasons and Responsibility:
The construction of Rana Plaza was flimsy, built without observing proper building codes and using poor materials. "The structure first fell at the rear, where it had been built atop a pond filled with sand" said by the people whose home is 100 meters away. The walls and floors of his flat juddered when the factories ran generators. In addition to the illegal building extensions, the Rana Plaza tragedy was also an outcome of a corrupt system. Government authorities have notably failed to inspect and monitor the illegal establishment of Rana Plaza. After the collapse had been predicted, the government ignored them and did not take any precautionary steps to avoid this calamity.

What can we do or expect to do?
According to Oxfam, which says that the lax building controls in Bangladeshi garment factories. This tragedy shows the need for a radical improvement of building standards. If the western retailers and Bangladeshi government do not agree to take steps towards improved working conditions, the disaster like Rana Plaze will continue to happen. The Bangladesh Building and fire safety Agreement which is the good start. For myself, I just signed and shared the Guilt-free Clothing petition. I saw that the company like H&M and Cavin Klein have committed to sign the building safety agreement. I hope this petition can help those people worked in outrageously dangerous conditions.

Reference link:

Anonymous said...

There are so many disasters that occur everyday in the world, that at times, its hard to keep track, especially, like Steve mentioned, when they are pushed further and further back into the pages of our newspapers. It is just so hard to accept when tragedies like what happened at the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh occur, as they are so easily avoidable. To loose so many innocent people, trying to make an honest living, at the hand of man is simply not acceptable in today's world.

This tragedy, for me, recalls the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire which occurred in New York's garment district over a hundred years ago in 1911. It was this disaster which took the lives of 146 innocent people, who like the Bangladeshi's, also existed in very poor working conditions and perished due to man's ignorance and insatiable need for power. As in Rena Plaza, all of the buildings exit doors had been locked, thus those trapped inside either jumped or burned to death.

One may say that the only positive to come out of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire were the reforms that followed, requiring safer working conditions and increasing the minimum wage. However, Warren Zhang's post tells us of how despite trying, many a time the human race is not equipped nor can adhere to the requirements needed to ensure future disasters do not occur. Warren tells us of the recently constructed buildings in China, meant to withstand the effects of earthquakes crumbling and taking more lives with them, despite being purposely built to withstand earthquakes of much greater magnitudes.

To step away from the disaster for a minute, one must always remember where their products come from, where one of the greatest things you can do in life is to be a smart and socially-conscious consumer. One must question, is this product really worth someone’s life? Where, according to Olga Khazan at The Atlantic, to improve Bangladesh factories and bring them up to Western safety standards, it would be a figure of around $3 billion, however, to the consumer, this figure may add up to a meagre 25 cents extra per garment.

Thus, all we can hope for, is that Bangladesh and the world learn from such a horrible yet completely avoidable disaster and realise how important safe working conditions and the human life truly are.


PRI’s The World

San Francisco Chronical

The Atlantic

Tyler Huang said...

My father owns a construction &decoration company in China. He persuaded me to not choose Civil engineering before I enter university. That was a long talking, he majorly telling me how much responsibility a civil engineer has to carry. After the earthquake happened in Sichuan in 2008, I started to realize that problems engineer has to response to usually cannot be control by engineer himself in China.

5 years before, Seventy thousand people died by Wenquan earthquake in Sichuan, more than five thousand were students. As it was happen in school time, most of them buried under teaching building. The public start to question the construction quality of school build, and they soon be proved as jerry-built projects as a result of corruption.

Like Time’s Bryan Walsh said: “"failures can turn natural disasters into man-made ones — and man-made ones are always worse.” Building, for me, represent warm and safety, however, this sort of trust with a failed building can turn to be a trap. Those builders and officers, who stole money from any inch of enforce, committed murdering.

It is like unspoken rules in the construction circle of China. You can tell from the scale of disaster 6898 school building collapsed. What sadder is, you cannot get the job if you do not deal with them.

What cheers me is that the new earthquake just happened in Yaan seems cause fewer casualties than five years ago.


Yehuda Bassin said...

This disaster is entirely man made which makes it that much sadder, to think that this all could have been avoided if if the individuals responsible cared more about human life than profit margins.

The day before the building collapsed crack were identified in the structure and the banks and shops on the lower floors were evacuated, however the factory managers forced their employees to return to work the next claiming the building was safe and as we all know now it was anything but.

There are many reasons why this building and other like it eventually collapse because not even the best buildings in the world will stay up if their construction or use does not follow what was planned.There are many loads that a building is designed to support, there are 'live loads' such as people, machinery and things that move and there are also dead loads which is usually the weight of the building itself. The top four levels of the plaza were not given a permit to be built possibly because the soil or foundations beneath would not support the weight of the building or the structure itself was never designed to hold an additional four levels of concrete construction. Many newspapers have reported shoddy construction methods and lack of reinforcement being responsible for this disaster but even if this building was built to code including the top four floors it was still never designed to support the live loads of a factory with thousands of workers and machinery.

Even if a building is built properly and used for its intended purpose unlike in Bangladesh it can still collapse due to human error. I learnt about the 'New World Hotel' Disaster in a construction class about three years ago. This hotel was built in Singapore in 1971 and collapsed in 1986 killing and injuring many. An inquiry discovered the cause of the collapse after looking into every environmental aspect around the sight, they discovered that the building was designed only to hold the live loads and operational loads of the hotel and not the dead load. It was only a matter of time till the building could not support its own weight resulting in its collapse.

What I am trying to say here I guess is that there is no one factor that creates tragedies like these, they come as a result of many people either turning a blind eye, being corrupt or just being negligent.

Architects, Engineers and Construction workers all have huge responsibilities on their shoulders, they need to ensure that anything that they design, authorize or construct guarantees the safety of human life to avoid such terrible disasters in the future.

Moe said...

First, I feel so sorry to hear this news. The family who lost loved ones must be very hard to get through it.
And those things make me remember that they were happened frequently in China before. It is clear that, the government needs to develop the countries’ economy. People need these jobs to feed their family. And the western company needs cheaper labor to save their cost to get maximum profits. That is why this ‘tripartite cooperation’ generated.
Since profit is the priority thing in this relationships. The workers welfare and safety undoubtedly been ignored with poor working conditions and low wages. To save money, they use poor structure material and this lead to a flimsy construction of Rana Plaza. Furthermore, they regardless of local building code and add levels to this flimsy building. What is more unimaginative, they did not observation for premonitory indications (there were cracks in the building) and allowed people still worked on it a day before the collapse happened.
In my opinion, western company is not the only one need to be punished. The irresponsible government also needs to be condemned as they failed to monitor and test the potential safety hazard of this building.

And When I googled building collapse, I can found hundred buildings collapsed due to poor structure and material. For example, a 7 storey building crashed in Thane’s Mumbra region killing 74 people on 4 April 2013. I have quoted one paragraph that I think can explain the reason why such kind of disaster happened.

V Suresh, Director at Sunny Vista Realtors and former CMD, HUDCO says, “A large percentage of the ‘informal sector building construction groups’ do not go through the proper approval process and are designed and built by ill-trained construction work force without effective supervision in terms of construction safety and use of quality materials and established construction practices. This should stop”

It is happy to see that china government has already pay attention to his situation. Works’ life standard getting better and life safety can be ensured. I hope all countries can learn from this terrible disaster and give lives more concern.