Support provided by Primark since the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh

One of the meetings held to advise beneficiaries on how to control, manage and invest their money

Paul Lister, responsible for Primark’s Ethical Trade and Environmental Sustainability Team, said: “Five years on from the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, Primark continues to support those who were affected and over the period has contributed a total of over $14 million in aid and compensation. In June 2017 Primark signed the 2018 Transition Accord, reaffirming Primark’s commitment to collaborate with other brands, factory owners, NGOs, trade unions and the Government of Bangladesh to bring about sustainable positive change in the Bangladeshi garment industry.”

Primark was deeply shocked and saddened by the disaster, which occurred in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, Bangladesh, on 24 April 2013. In the immediate aftermath, Primark was one of the first brands to state that New Wave Bottoms, a supplier to Primark, was one of five garment factories located in the Rana Plaza building. As part of Primark’s response, it pledged short and long-term support to those affected.

Primark’s immediate support:

  • Primark’s Ethical Trade team based in Bangladesh worked with local partners to fund emergency food aid for over 1,265 households and provide financial support to all victims and their families, whether or not they had worked for Primark’s supplier New Wave Bottoms.
  • Primark created a comprehensive database of workers who were in the building at the time of the collapse and established a 24-hour helpline to support those affected.
  • 3,621 workers and / or their families received the equivalent of nine months’ salary in short-term financial aid. Payments were made via the bKash mobile banking system, providing a direct and secure method of payment. Individuals required a mobile phone to receive payment. Primark distributed mobile phones to anyone who did not have their own and worked with the global union IndustriALL and Bkash, a subsidiary of BRAC bank, a Bangladeshi bank focused on small and medium enterprises, to help beneficiaries to open mobile banking accounts.
  • Primark was one of the first international retailers to sign up to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh in 2013. In 2017 Primark signed the 2018 Transition Accord, reaffirming its commitment to a new three-year agreement when the existing agreement expires in May 2018.

Primark’s longer-term support:

  • Working with local partners and in consultation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Primark created a long-term compensation programme for workers (or their dependents) of Primark’s suppliers New Wave Bottoms.
  • Of the $14 million contributed by Primark in the aftermath, $11 million comprised long-term payments made to 672 individuals.
  • Primark made these payments with great care. Due to the vulnerability of some recipients, Primark provided both financial education and additional non-financial support to help people manage their compensation for the long-term.
  • In November 2014, Primark hosted a programme of events with BRAC Bank and organisations including the Bangladesh-based NGO SHEVA and Dhaka University, to give all beneficiaries advice on how to control, manage and invest their money. 751 people attended the event over 23 days. Attendees were given help to open bank accounts, given advice and information about savings accounts and supported through the process of purchasing land, where appropriate.
  • Today, the most vulnerable beneficiaries and former workers of New Wave Bottoms who were affected by the disaster continue to receive non-financial support through Primark’s Pashe Achi project, a collaboration with the University of Dhaka’s Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies and other experts. Pashe Achi, meaning ‘by your side’ in Bengali, was set up by Primark in 2015 to provide support and advice to beneficiaries on an ongoing basis. The project aims to build the confidence and knowledge of those affected so that they can manage their financial compensation long-term. It includes a specific focus on children of the victims including regular contact to monitor their development until they reach at least 18 years old. Participants in the project are also given advice on how to access health services and legal support through regular contact and a 24-hour helpline.

Collaboration to bring sustainable positive change to the Bangladeshi garment industry

The clothing and textile industry in Bangladesh continues to make a significant contribution to the country’s economy, creating jobs and opportunities. Prior to the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, inspecting buildings to ensure they were structurally sound was the responsibility of factory owners and not a formal part of auditing of suppliers and facilities by brands and retailers.

The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety brought together more than 220 apparel brands, retailers, international and local trade unions, and NGOs. The independent, legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions was designed to work towards a safe Bangladeshi garment industry. The Accord was established with a specific focus on improving the structural and electrical safety of factories through inspections, remediation and training.

Primark was one of the first signatory brands of both the first Accord, and the new three-year 2018 Transition Accord, which will be renewed on expiry of the existing agreement in May this year. Collaboration through the programme will continue to complement the work of Primark’s own Ethical Trade and Sustainability team, experts who have been based in Bangladesh since 2009 and work directly with suppliers who manufacture products on Primark’s behalf.

Six weeks after the disaster, Primark began its own programme of structural building inspections to assess its suppliers’ factories against international standards, working closely with the Accord and the structural engineering consultancy MCS. Designed by structural engineers, the structural integrity programme covers all factories manufacturing goods for Primark in Bangladesh. Primark has hired its own in-house Chartered Structural Engineer to run the programme alongside global engineering, management and development consultancy, Mott MacDonald. The team oversees factory inspections and works directly with factory owners to provide technical guidance on how to improve the structural integrity of buildings.

The Rana Plaza tragedy brought together brands, NGOs and local partners in an unprecedented way. It fostered collaboration to bring about positive and sustainable change within the Bangladeshi garment sector. Five years on, Primark remains committed to this work.

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