THE BLOG

The Lessons of Rana Plaza: Tackling a Silent Crisis That Begins in Childhood

24/04/2015 17:27 BST | Updated 24/06/2015 10:59 BST

Two years ago, when the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people, it became the largest disaster in the history of the garment industry. This woke up companies and people around the world to how their clothes are made and the absurdly long hours, lack of benefits, abuses and sheer danger that workers can be exposed to in the process.

Even knowing the hazards that the world's poorest people face in earning a living for their family we shared in the shock and outrage of these needless deaths - turning our clothes inside out to see if the companies that sourced from Rana Plaza were in our closet.

The fight for compensation continues, but attacks on those working to organise and protect workers has made this fight harder. And the challenge of the most vulnerable workers in our world to find safe non-exploitive work is proof that we still have a long way to go to make progress in the working conditions in the world's poorest countries.

Rana Plaza drew urgent and immediate attention to what is often a silent crisis that begins in childhood. Poverty and marginalisation drive children into work because it is perceived as the best use of their time in contributing to the needs of the family and preparing them for the life they are expected to lead. These children grow up in factories, mines, or - especially for young girls - unpaid domestic work that offers just shelter and board.

Though there are laws against it, and despite the attention the Rana Plaza disaster and the work of campaigners around the world has brought, Bangladesh garment factories are still exploiting child labour. In many cases children are performing the same tasks as adults - cutting, trimming, sewing, packing and cleaning - in an environment that can be 'unhygienic and suffocating,' and where children may work for more than 12 hours a day. Around the world we must remember that we will not break this cycle of exploitation until the children of these workers have the options that only an education can give them.

As long as families have little or no opportunity for free or affordable education and no hope for breaking the cycle of poverty with new skills and safe, paid work, children will continue to go to work for gruelling, long, unhealthy hours into their adulthood - and their children will do the same. There are currently at least 600,000 - some estimates say as many as 1.5million children - out of school in Bangladesh. When children are in the factories, they are not safely in school and learning. It is these same children--the poor and most vulnerable - and their families that continue to be exploited in unsafe, unsanitary working conditions. The relationship between education, child labour and later exploitation in the workforce is clear.

Today, Fashion Revolution, the global coalition of designers, business leaders, politicians and others calling for reform of the fashion supply chain, has organized protests in nearly 70 countries and is urging all consumers to ask ' who made my clothes.'

We must continue to fight for the rights of workers everywhere by ensuring that no one should be coerced or forced into unsafe work - especially not children - because that is all that is available to them. The children of the Rana Plaza disaster should be managing the factories of the future and their children should have options that those brave men and women never dreamed of.

We will not get there until we ensure that all children everywhere have access to an education.

#upforschool #fashrev