Much more work still needs to be done to drive change in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse

Much more work still needs to be done to drive change in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse

Among the numerous statements released today (24 April) to mark the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, there is a depressing similarity hanging over them all: that despite a year of industry-wide action aimed at improving conditions in the country's booming garment sector, much more work still needs to be done.

Indeed, both the US and EU have used the milestone as an opportunity to signal to the Bangladeshi government that unless ongoing shortfalls in labour standards are addressed, then the country cannot take its preferential market access for granted.

The US, of course, has already suspended its Generalized System of Preference (GSP) benefits for Bangladesh but, with another hearing scheduled next month, seems to be suggesting the system will still not be renewed.

While the EU is also hinting that "substantial progress" on labour issues is key to Bangladesh's continued duty-free access under its GSP scheme.

As just-style's timeline of change in Bangladesh over the past year shows, there has been no shortage of activity by the world's biggest brands and retailers, stakeholders and trade unions.

Common factory inspection standards have been agreed. Factory inspections are now taking place. More inspectors are being recruited. And in a major move towards industry-wide collaboration, supplier lists are being shared and inspection results made publicly available.

But even here there is concern that efforts to reform the industry are missing the mark.

The most scathing comments come in a new report that suggests little effort has been made to resolve the inherent risks of Bangladesh's indirect sourcing model and pursuit of the lowest costs.

International remedial efforts are also criticised for only focusing on training and inspections. Infrastructure development is just as important, yet remains largely ignored over fears that donated funds will be siphoned off. And smaller factories and facilities where the worst conditions are to be found have fallen into a black hole outside the scope of the Accord and Alliance agreements.

Most disapproval seems to be levelled at the Bangladeshi government, which lacks the "resources, administrative capacity, and often the will" to protect workers, thanks to labour law that is weak - and enforcement that is "weaker still".

Concerns also remain about basic worker rights under both Bangladesh's labour law and its special Export Processing Zone law, and freedom of association, both of which must continue to improve.

And small changes that could make a big difference are not being addressed, such as tariffs of up to 61% on imports of essential building and fire safety equipment.

But despite the challenges, global brands and retailers are starting to shift from short-term transactions to stronger and more strategic alliances with their suppliers. They're also breaking down barriers over more traditional concerns such as sharing details about their supply chains.

And they remain committed to Bangladesh, with orders continuing to flow in. Indeed, the country's ready-made garment industry expects a 10-15% growth in exports for the current fiscal year ending June, after achieving a 16.7% hike to US$16.13bn in the first eight months.

Perhaps most important legacy of all is that the Rana Plaza tragedy continues to act as a catalyst for real and lasting change throughout the entire supply chain. It hasn't happened yet, but gradual improvements are being seen.