Rozina was trapped inside the textile factory for three days. She is still waiting for compensation from the clothing companies.
“They forced me to go inside. I refused but I had no choice”. 24-year-old Rozina maintains eye contact as if to make sure that the words sink in.
“The managers were shouting that they would take away our salary if we didn’t enter the factory. Some people were shoved and beat”.
Her shoulders and arms are covered by a black scarf. It is not until the scarf slides up a few centimeters that you can see that the left arm has been amputated above the elbow.
Rozina Akthar worked at the factory Rana Plaza in the industrial city Gazipur in Bangladesh. She here sewed clothes for the fashion companies in Europe and the United States for less than DKK 2 per hour.
We were trapped
On 23 April, 2013, a large crack was seen in the factory’s concrete construction. Auditors warned against entering the eight-story building the next morning. But the owner – the businessman and politician, Sohel Rana – personally showed up to ensure the employees that everything had been checked down to the last detail.
“Once we had entered, they would not let us out again. We were trapped”. At eight o’clock, Rozina was sitting as usual by her machine. A few meters away was her 17-year-old sister, Marzina. At eight-thirty, the lights went out. Then came the crash. The generators that were supposed to provide the power supply instead sent a tremor through the entire building. As with an earthquake, the building sank under its own weight. Rozina was caught under a concrete element and a table. She was hit in the head by rubble from the ceiling and her left arm became stuck.
“I shouted my little sister’s name over and over. The only thing I could think of was to get free and to find her. I never doubted for an instant that I would survive. I don’t know why, but that’s how I felt”, Rozina explains.
15 Years Old and Working at the Textile Factory
Rozina was part of the boom that swept Bangladesh after the turn of the millennium. Both Danish and global clothing chains swarmed the country, which seemed appealing due to some of the lowest wages in the world. Rozina has been working in clothing factories from the age of 15. Now, she was trapped in the collapsed building, while the extent of the catastrophe gradually became apparent to the rest of the world.
After three days, an aid worker found a much-weakened Rozina. Nevertheless, she was not safe yet. The incredibly heavy pieces from the ceiling made it impossible to get close enough to get her out, and the situation became increasingly critical. Finally, Rozina accepted the hacksaw that was handed down to her and tried the unthinkable: to saw off her own arm.
“I wasn’t afraid. I couldn’t speak anymore and I was barely able to think. I felt no pain either”, Rozina explains. Her voice is calm and unemotional.
The operation was not completely successful. Even though Rozina had the courage, she did not have the strength to saw through the bone. She got far enough, however, for the aid worker to be able to pull her out. The ensuing hours have been mercifully erased by the unconsciousness that accompanied Rozina to the nearest hospital. Her sister did not survive.
Searching for Sister Every Day
Rana Plaza became the worst catastrophe in the history of the textile industry. Today, the ruins appear as a monument to the clothing industry’s race to the bottom. Between rusty reinforcement bars and concrete blocks, the bereaved continue to search for the remains of those who did not make it out alive, a mother, a daughter or a brother.
“I visit the place almost every day to search for my sister’s body. Some people say that she has been moved and buried somewhere else, but I’m still hoping to find her”, Rozina says.
Companies Do Nothing
Rozina suffers from daily headaches and pains in her arm after the catastrophe. She also mourns the fact that she is no longer able to earn a living for herself.
“I used to get up at five to go to work. I didn’t like it, but I would do it again if I had the chance. I’m no use to anybody today”.
And then again. Rozina’s 7-year-old daughter Rini comes running from the yard with a friend and jumps up to her mother on the hard bed that takes up most of the space in the family’s shanty. Rozina proudly explains that Rini is in the first grade and points to a stack of old school books that are waiting for her to become old enough.
In the yard, a couple of neighbouring women are frying a fish on the only gas burner in the building complex. Rozina can only afford rice and perhaps a few vegetables in the daily housekeeping.
“I’m not sure how we’re supposed to manage in the future. The companies that purchased clothes from our factory have a responsibility in connection to what happened, but they didn’t do anything about it. And they still don’t”, Rozina says. She receives DKK 690 from the state every month over the next four years.
A group of women stand among the rubble from Rana Plaza in the evening sun with little pictures of their deceased relatives. A boy suddenly waves, part triumphantly, part frightened. He has found something. When the adults approach, he holds it up with a serious expression on his face. It is a human skull.
Shapla Akhtar escaped from Rana Plaza alive but she is still searching for her brother’s body in the ruins. She brings her brother’s 10-year-old daughter, Fuara, and her own 7-year-old daughter, Ontore.
Survivors Are still Waiting for Compensation after the Catastrophe
The surviving workers and the bereaved from the collapse of Rana Plaza are still waiting for compensation from the clothing companies that were using the factory. So far, only seven clothing companies have accepted to pay money to a fund for victims of the catastrophe, among them the Danish company Mascot.
In addition, Primark chose to pay nine months’ worth of salary to the surviving workers. Among the 24 companies that do not wish to pay to the fund is the Danish PWT Group that manages Tøjeksperten and Wagner as well as brands such as Bison, Shine and Lindbergh.
This has been a cause of criticism from the union 3F.
“PWT Group needs to dig deep into its pockets. It has a clear moral obligation to help the victims of the systematic greed and oppression that triggered the catastrophe”, Mads Andersen, Chairman of 3F’s industry group, says. PWT Group maintains that the company does not have any legal liability. Instead of contributing to the fund, the company has supported other projects, Head of Marketing, Brian Børsting, explains:
“We have donated a quite considerable amount to two well-renowned organisations in Bangladesh, where we are sure that our contribution helps and makes a difference”, Brian Børsting says.
Agreement on Safety
As a consequence of the catastrophe at Rana Plaza, more than 150 global companies entered into an agreement on safety in the clothing factories in Bangladesh. The agreement includes, among others, the government of Bangladesh and the factory owners, the FN body ILO and the global trade unions UNI and IndustryALL. The agreement covers 1,500 factories. The first independent audits began in February.