Garment factory workers' families wait for promised compensation

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The remains of Rana Plaza in Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The remains of Rana Plaza in Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: ITV News

Walking along Savar's frantic streets, suddenly you come upon a whole block that is missing. The wreckage of what once was a whole complex of factories where 3,000 people worked.

Despite nearly month of what was first a rescue, and then a clean up mission, it only takes a couple of minutes to find fluttering around the site, labels in the dust of brands based thousands of miles away. British brands like Primark and Premier Clothing whose clothes were made inside the collapsed Rana Plaza complex.

Behind barbed wire the relatives of those who were killed wait. They're not waiting any more in the hope that the bodies of their relatives will be found, or even for a repeat of the miracle when a young girl was pulled out still alive after more two weeks. They come here instead in the hope of getting help.

Labels from UK clothing company Premier in the rubble.
Labels from UK clothing company Premier in the rubble. Credit: ITV News

Read: Western companies 'share blame' for Bangladesh factory conditions

Although in the UK, the companies like Primark and Premier said they would provide support, and in Primark's case, long term financial support for the victims and their families, the relatives that we met said so far they have not had any financial help from either the Western companies nor the suppliers who were in the building.

So many of them make a daily pilgrimage to the site of the collapse itself, in the hope that help will arrive. Indeed when we arrived at the site some of them believed that we were charity workers there to provide assistance.

A Primark label is seen in the garments left among the rubble in Savar, Bangladesh
A Primark label is seen in the garments left among the rubble in Savar, Bangladesh Credit: ITV News

One woman told us her 15 year old grandaughter had only been working in the factory for a month or so when she was killed. She said that she had not been able to get any assistance from anywhere: "We are so poor, I don't know where to go for help." Her granddaughter was like many, the only member of her family who had work.

We met Sian, a two year old boy whose grandparents will now bring him up. His mother and father were both killed in the collapse. 8 people in the narrow alleyway where his family lives died. His grandfather told me they had heard that compensation would be due, but that they had not yet heard anything, "We can't bear the sorrow, but we have to survive."

The leader of one of the national trade union's Nazma Akter, told us that no survivor of the disaster, nor family of victims, has yet received compensation packages at all. Some families are still owed the wages due to their relatives who were killed. She said:

Still today there is no compensation..a month on. Multinationals created this problem, low wages and low working conditions..so they can get the cheap price always.

Firms who promised help insist that they have been working on the ground and are trying to help the victims.

Primark said they are now delivering 1,000 food parcels a week to those who have been affected. But sources admit they are still working out how to run their compensation schemes.

Read: Firms back Bangladesh safety plan

And it is striking that even the fiercest critics of the garment industry we have met here would not turn the trade away. The business is crucial to Bangladesh - providing employment in this desperately poor country for more than 4 million people.

It is the second biggest clothing manufacturer in the world, after China, and the wages are far lower here. Since the disaster in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi government, Western firms, the EU and ethical trading organisations have been talking about ways of making the industry safer and bringing up wages and standards.

Bangladesh safety plan: 'A crucial victory for workers'

The debris from the collapsed factory where more than 1,000 people died.
The debris from the collapsed factory where more than 1,000 people died. Credit: ITV News

But it is not straightforward, and a dilemma is faced daily by factory managers. People like Syed Muhammad Ferdous, whose factory customer list reads like an A-Z of the British high street, say they want to do everything they can to protect their workers.

He is responsible for the safety of 10,000 workers in a factory very near the Rana Plaza. But he says the pressure from some Western buyers to keep costs as low as possible make it harder to keep safety standards high.

Western consumers want cheap clothes, buyers want to keep costs down for their businesses, but factory owners here too want their slice of the pie.

A label from a  Western retailer among the rubble of the remains of the garment factory.
A label from a Western retailer among the rubble of the remains of the garment factory. Credit: ITV News

People are being prosecuted for what happened at Rana Plaza. It is therefore difficult to draw a straight line between what happened in that terrible disaster and our demand for cheap clothes.

But there is no doubt that pressure on price leads some factory and building owners to cut corners.

Talking to families at Rana Plaza, and looking around at the site where more than a thousand people lost their lives, you have to wonder what our hunger for bargains is really worth.

In a statement to ITV News Primark said they are in the process of providing compensation for victims:

Primark is in discussion with the ILO, and other key stakeholders about the most appropriate way of providing compensation for victims. The compensation has to be delivered in a way that supports victims, especially the vulnerable, over the long term.

The company has engaged specialist advisors in this area to help it implement a suitable scheme. As a result it will take time to put the appropriate mechanism in place.

We should be in a position to give more details in the next few weeks. In the meantime the company is continuing to provide food aid to almost 1000 families.

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