Representatives of the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) are joining an international delegation in Bangladesh today to commemorate the two year anniversary of a factory collapse that left more than 1,100 people dead and 2,500 injured. Jessica Maudlin, associate with PHP’s Enough for Everyone ministry, and Bryce Wiebe, manager for the Office of Special Offerings were invited by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), a PHP partner.

The tragedy occurred on April 24, 2013, with the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The factories produce clothes for western companies such as The Children’s Place. Since that time, thousands of survivors and families of those killed have been unsuccessful in receiving compensation or assistance from those financially responsible.

The ILRF reports that hundreds of victims were left permanently disabled or severely traumatized, unable to work. Many of the workers were teenagers, trapped for days under debris. Some survivors had limbs amputated on-site in order to be freed from the rubble. Others have struggled with homelessness since the disaster and have resorted to begging on the streets to survive.

“By participating with the delegation, we hope to bring this issue to the attention of Presbyterians and garner support for the garment industry workforce through advocacy here in the U.S.,” said Maudlin. “It is our hope that these efforts will encourage U.S. based clothing companies like The Children’s Place, Wal-Mart and Benetton to sign agreements that will help garment industry workers who need jobs but need them with dignity.”

After the disaster, retailers and government officials in Bangladesh promised major reforms as thousands of factories were inspected for structural problems. Dozens were closed or refurbished, while others worked to improve working conditions and treatment of employees. However, human rights organizations say problems still exist.

A young boy holds the prosthetic hand of a man who was injured in the garment factory collapse.

A young boy holds the prosthetic hand of a man who was injured in the garment factory collapse. —Jessica Maudlin

The ILRF recently sent a letter to Jane Elfers, CEO for The Children’s Place, urging the company to take the necessary steps to compensate those impacted by the disaster. PC(USA) Executive Director Linda Valentine was among those to sign the letter which states, “Survivors and family members of victims have faced a myriad of struggles as a result of the lack of compensation, including homelessness and the inability to put adequate food on the table for their families….We are asking you to please think about the children, many of whom have had to leave school and begin working because they lost a parent or their parent is permanently disabled and the families now risk starvation.”

“We are asking Presbyterians in the U.S. to sign petitions, hold demonstrations at local stores like Walmart, Zara or Benneton, and urge management to follow through with their commitments to support those who are still suffering from this disaster,” said Wiebe. “Meantime, we will be meeting with many of the survivors in Bangladesh to hear and share their stories.”

On the anniversary of the tragedy The Children’s Place made a $2 million contribution to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund. The ILRF has asked companies to contribute a total of $9 million to the fund. The money will go toward helping orphaned children, injured workers and the families of those killed.

To learn more about ILRF efforts to assist go to: http://www.laborrights.org/publications/still-waiting-bangladeshi-workers-seek-compensation.

PHP recently hosted a webinar about the abuses in the garment industry and what can be done to address them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVVFOPKCAnY&feature=youtu.be.