Lessons from Rana Plaza: Shocked, But Not Surprised

Jun 4, 2013 4:00 AM ET

When now-President and CEO Aron Cramer arrived at BSR in 1995, the situation faced by workers in Bangladesh’s apparel industry was much the same as it is today. It’s time for systemic change. In this blog, Cramer highlights major changes that the apparel industry and Bangladeshi government--among others--must make to ensure that tragedy does not happen again. For more, visit http://www.bsr.org/en/our-insights/blog-view/lessons-from-rana-plaza-shocked-but-not-surprised.



When the news of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh hit last month, I was shocked, but not surprised.

In 1995, when I started at BSR to launch our Business and Human Rights program, BSR’s founding CEO Bob Dunn handed me a box packed with files, clippings, and correspondence from his days at Levi Strauss & Co. The papers detailed the chronic problems facing workers in Bangladesh’s apparel industry, an issue that was evident even then, two decades ago.

My immediate reaction to this case, and my knowledge that the Bangladeshi apparel industry has failed to reform for more than 20 years, caused me to consider whether divestment from the country was in order. My belief, and BSR’s approach generally, favors engagement to improve conditions, rather than disinvestment, which typically hurts the very workers such efforts are intended to help. Given this history, however, I had to think long and hard whether anything would change these deep-seated problems. Initial signs of systematic industry collaboration, working with governments, trade unions, the International Labor Organization, and others, give me some confidence that we have learned our lesson (finally) and will take decisive action.

My memory of those Bangladesh files made the awful news from Rana Plaza even harder to digest. We talk a lot about “shared value,” but this case lays bare a much more uncomfortable truth: These deaths stemmed from the shared failure of all parties—the Bangladeshi industry and government, factory monitors, and all the companies and consumers that rely on a country that is the world’s second-largest producer of apparel.

To read the rest of this blog, including Cramer's recommendations for how industry, government, and others must change to prevent further tragedies, please visit: http://www.bsr.org/en/our-insights/blog-view/lessons-from-rana-plaza-shocked-but-not-surprised.

BSR works with its global network of more than 250 member companies to build a just and sustainable world. From its offices in Asia, Europe, and North and South America, BSR develops sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting,research, and cross-sector collaboration. For more information, visit www.bsr.org.