More than 2,500 workers were injured in the Rana Plaza collapse (Photo credit: IndustriAll)

More than 2,500 workers were injured in the Rana Plaza collapse (Photo credit: IndustriAll)

The Rana Plaza factory disaster has proved to be a catalyst for change in Bangladesh. While there has been criticism of the speed of the factory inspection process and efforts to improve worker safety, a timeline of major milestones shows that progress is being made.

24 April 2013: An eight-storey factory building complex at Rana Plaza in the industrial outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapses killing at least 1,138 garment workers and injuring over 2,500 more. Exact numbers are still sketchy, with hundreds of bodies remaining unidentified or missing. The world's worst industrial accident in 30 years came just five months after the Tazreen factory fire in Dhaka, where more than 120 workers lost their lives. The Rana Plaza building housed five clothing factories - Ether Tex, New Wave Bottoms, New Wave Style, Phantom Apparels and Phantom Tex - and a mall. The collapse was caused by the illegal addition of two floors on an already sub-standard building.

1-4 May 2013: A high-Level International Labor Organisation (ILO) mission visits Bangladesh to identify key areas for action. A joint statement is signed by tripartite partners (government, workers, employers) identifying key areas for action, such as the assessment of the structural integrity of ready-made garment factory buildings; strengthening labour inspection; worker and management training and awareness of occupational safety and health and workers' rights; rehabilitation and skills training of disabled workers; and the possible establishment of a Better Work programme. 

13 May 2013: The first of two major remedial plans was launched. The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety is backed by global unions and mostly-European companies, with founder members including Benetton, C&A, Carrefour, Debenhams, Esprit, H&M, Inditex, Marks & Spencer, Otto Group, Primark, Puma, PVH and Tesco. The full list of signatories now extends to more than 150 companies, and can be seen here. The Accord covers 1,639 supplier factories.

The legally-binding five-year Accord commits to independent safety inspections with public reports on all Bangladeshi suppliers used by the signatory companies, mandatory repairs and renovations, the obligation by brands to underwrite the costs of safety upgrades, and repercussions for suppliers that refuse to improve conditions including the termination of business. It also binds signatories to maintain sourcing volumes in Bangladesh for two years.

27 June 2013: The US decides to suspend the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits to Bangladesh - the system under which it can export certain goods to the US duty-free. While this has little impact on apparel - the vast majority of products do not enjoy GSP relief - it sends a powerful signal to the Bangladeshi government and business leaders. Renewal is due to be reconsidered again in May 2014.

8 July 2013: The EU, Bangladesh Government and ILO issue the Global Sustainability Compact to promote improved labour standards, the structural integrity of buildings and occupational safety and health, and responsible business conduct in the RMG and knitwear industry in Bangladesh. The Compact assigns an important coordination and monitoring role to the ILO.

10 July 2013: Certain elements of the Accord presented a major stumbling block to North American firms, including the way in which disputes are resolved, which many US companies feared would subject them to potentially unlimited legal liability and litigation. As a result, a group of 26 mostly North American brands and retailers, including Wal-Mart, Gap, JC Penney and VF Corp have lent their support to the essentially voluntary Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. The Alliance covers 770 supplier factories. A comparison of the Alliance and Accord can be seen here.

15 July 2013: Amendments are made to the Bangladesh Labour Act, including provisions on workplace rights, safety and health. Progress is also seen on the registration of new unions following the labour law reforms, with over 140 new unions registered to date - compared to just two in the preceding three years.

25 July 2013: The Accord and Alliance between them cover 2,409 of the 3,498 Bangladesh factories making garments for export, while it is also estimated that there are another 1,500 factories and facilities on top of this. To address the shortfall, the Government of Bangladesh and representatives from local employers' and workers' organisations sign an integrated National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity in the garment Sector of Bangladesh (NTPA), coordinated by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

22 October 2013: The ILO launches a US$24m, three-and-a-half year programme on improving working conditions in the ready-made garment sector. The programme is designed to support the National Tripartite Plan of Action. A new Better Work programme is also launched in Bangladesh.

7 November 2013: The ILO brings together technical experts (structural engineers, fire safety experts) from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) on behalf of the NTC, the Accord, and the Alliance. The experts agree on harmonised standards for structural and fire safety assessments.

22 November 2013: Led by engineers from BUET, assessments of the structural integrity and fire safety of RMG factory buildings officially commence.

1 December 2013: A new minimum wage for garment workers comes into effect, rising by 77% to $68 (BDT5,300) per month. The basic salary is also set to rise by 5% each year.

15 January 2014: The Government of Bangladesh upgrades the chief inspector of factories and establishments office to a department, sanctioning 679 new staff positions, including 392 new inspectors.

17 January: The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh finalises the fire, electrical, and building inspection standards against which all its member supplier factories will be assessed. Click here to see the full scope of the building standards. 

20 February 2014: Accord factory inspections get underway, with 38 teams of fire, electrical and structural engineers due to conduct 250 inspections a month until September.

12 March 2014: Alliance factory inspections get underway. By 22 April, inspections have been completed on more than half of them, and are due to be finished by July.

18 March 2014: The Rana Plaza Coordination Committee adopts the Rana Plaza Arrangement to provide compensation to all injured workers, dependents of the dead and missing, and non-injured workers present in the complex when it collapsed.

23 April 2014: The Rana Plaza Coordination Committee agrees to award BDT50,000 (US$650) each to victims of the building collapse as advance compensation payments. The fund has so far received about US$15m of the estimated $40m needed to compensate all victims.