Thinking of Rana Plaza, Dhaka and Bangladesh

Today, while we remember Rana Plaza collapsing four years ago, let me tell you a bit about the Bangladesh I’ve come to know. A complicated country with many contradictions that somehow captured my heart in between all its troubles. About why Rana Plaza still matters and about what we can do.

The idea for Tulsi Crafts started in 2011, when visiting Bangladesh for Niketan Foundation. We visited Bangladesh for a few weeks and drove around bustling Dhaka in a CNG (a tuk tuk, they break down quite often!) meeting with partners of Niketan and visiting various initiatives they might be able to cooperate with.

cng tuk tuk dhaka bangladesh

Seeing lines of women, some girls still, queuing up for shoddy factory buildings in their colourful saris. Who knows one of them was Rana Plaza, while it was still standing. Realising, had I been born in a different place, that woman in a sari could have been me, or you.

Walking into a random building, it appeared to hold a toys ‘factory’. It was a room without windows where little girls were putting plastic toys together, I recognised the toys as those small colourful plastic windmills kids play with at the beach here. In the same building was also an umbrella ‘factory’, another room filled with little boys.

Labour in Bangladesh

After being in Dhaka for a few weeks, things started falling into place. These young women are making our clothes and their kids are making our toys and umbrellas. Why? The women, many still girls, many already mothers at their young age simply need to provide for themselves and their kids. They queue to work long hours at unsafe places because there is no other work available for them. They’re paid a pittance, a wage they can not live on. This forces their kids to work too, they need to eat, to survive, after all.

Where are their fathers you might wonder? They could work in the leather industry, work that’s equally low paid and even more dangerous, or they might operate the machines that weave the fabric for our clothes. Or they might be a rickshaw wallah, riding one of the hundreds of thousands of rickshaws in Dhaka. All jobs not earning much and not anything approaching a living wage.

bustling dhaka bangladesh rickshaws

Even if there are no kids working in the slightly more regulated factories that produce clothing for the foreign market, the kids of the people making our clothes still have to work. They have to work under even worse circumstances because our clothes are too cheap. Is this the consumers fault, is the manufacturer to blame, or is it the government? Probably all. Much has changed since Rana Plaza, but much more has stayed the same.

What can we do?

The good news is, there is something we can do. We can change the way we consume, be ethical consumers and ask questions. Do you pay a living wage? We can create the demand. We can join the Fashion Revolution and ask #whomademyclothes

So girls can be girls instead of mums, working in dangerous places like Rana Plaza. So mums can afford to send their kids to school and break this cycle.

We decided to leave the creation of a revolution in the clothing industry to others who were better equipped to do that. Instead we looked for the bright sparks, the alternatives, the organisations who value people. We started to think with them, work with them, to try and create an alternative to the fashion industry, to Rana Plaza. That’s how Tulsi Crafts was born! Want to know more about why Tulsi Crafts works on a small scale on the problems in Bangladesh? Read our blogpost: Problems in the Bangladesh textile industry.

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