Is the Bangladesh factory collapse a turning point?

April 24, 2014

CBS News

As the world commemorates the one-year anniversary of the deadly Rana Plaza factory building collapse in Bangladesh, an overriding question remains: What can be done to prevent such industrial accidents in the future, especially in emerging economies and business sectors like Bangladesh’s garment industry?

Many European and North American retailers, who depend on the Bangladeshi textile industry for their apparel, have responded to the factory collapse with their own worker safety initiatives. There have also been calls for consumers to consider the human cost behind that bargain-priced clothing we all demand.

At the same time, the media has picked up on the parallels between Rana Plaza and a similar disaster, a century earlier in New York City, when 146 people, mostly young immigrant women, were burned to death or forced to jump to their deaths after a fire swept through theTriangle Shirtwaist Factory. That 1911 tragedy gave new momentum to the U.S. labor movement; it also introduced regulations and reforms for workplace conditions and safety.

But will Rana Plaza, like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, serve as a turning point for garment industry workers or another missed opportunity?

“I think that this disaster was big enough proportions that it caught the attention of the world in the way that perhaps some of the smaller incidents of the past have not,” said Douglas Allen, director of the international MBA program at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. “I know that it’s come up in conversations I’ve had with some of my MBA students in China as well.”