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'Extreme working conditions': Fast fashion protest targets Rue Neuve stores

09:37 26/04/2023

Protestors rolled a giant ball of clothing along Brussels’ shopping street Rue Neuve on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in an effort to raise awareness about exploitation of workers in the fast-fashion industry.

The ball of clothes passed the various fast-fashion stores along Rue Neuve and was rolled over people as a nod to the 1,138 workers in Bangladesh who died in 2013 when the Rana Plaza factory, where several major clothing brands had their products made, collapsed.

Protestors chanted, “Rana Plaza, never again” and held up posters that displayed the number of people killed in the factory collapse.

The action was organised by achACT, which aims to improve working conditions and strengthen workers’ organisations, particularly in the clothing industry.

“It was a shock for thousands of people,” achACT spokesperson Sanna Abdessalem said in reference to the Rana disaster.

“Afterwards, images circulated and people became aware of the conditions in which millions of people work. Ten years later, factories are safer in Bangladesh, but millions of workers still face extreme working conditions.”

The protest was staged ahead of an important directive discussed in the European Parliament this week concerning companies’ duty of care when it comes to the factories from which they source their products.

Protestors say the draft directive is currently too weak to guarantee respect for human, social and environmental rights in international value chains. They therefore urged policymakers in Europe and Belgium to adopt more ambitious legislation to prevent disasters such as Rana Plaza.

About 100 people from trade unions or organisations gathered on the Place de la Monnaie after the demonstration with the giant ball of clothing and two artists recited texts criticising over-consumption and the human consequences it can have. Speeches were then given.

“A decade after the deadliest disaster in the garment sector, progress in the garment sector is very meagre,” achACT explained.

“The fast fashion model remains based on production at rock bottom prices and wages remain far below subsistence levels.”

Activists also took to the streets in Bangladesh itself, commemorating the victims and demanding justice.

Protestors there included several people, some with amputated limbs, who survived the disaster.

“Ten years later, but what happened to the killers?” protestors chanted.

The unions acknowledged the progress made on safety, but also criticised the slow judicial process, for example against the owner of Rana Plaza.

Photo: Gabriel Mitran/Belga

Written by Helen Lyons