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Benetton's €1m for Bangladesh's Rana Plaza victims fails to satisfy campaigners

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Families of Rana Plaza make the first anniversary of the tragedy Reuters/Andrew Biraj

The Italian clothing company Benetton has paid one million euros into a fund for victims of the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. The announcement comes a week before the second anniversary of the factory building collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers and injured twice that number.


The Italian firm is the latest big Western fashion retailer that sourced clothing from the eight-storey building in Dhaka to donate to a fund set up by the UN’s International Labour Organisation.

But campaigners are disappointed that the fund remains 6.5 million euros short of its 27.5-million-euro target. They had called upon Benetton to make up the sum.

“It’s really disappointing,” Nayla Ajaltouni, coordinator with French non-profit organisation Ethique sur l’Etiquette, which campaigns for better working conditions for garment workers, told RFI. "It’s four million less than the calculation that civil society groups made on the basis of Benetton’s production in Bangladesh and their financial capacities."

Benetton said it had given the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund twice the sum suggested by professional services group PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which Benetton commissioned to assess its contribution. It said the specially commissioned report would be publicly available.

“While there is no real redress for the tragic loss of life we hope that this robust and clear mechanism for calculating compensation could be used more widely,” Marco Airoldi, Benetton chief executive, said in a statement.

Ajaltouni regretted their calculation was “not transparent” adding that Benetton had “a responsibility, as a transnational actor benefitting from economic globalisation”, to compensate more.

Benetton’s contribution comes after more than a million people around the world signed a petition on the campaigning site Avaaz calling for the Italian label to donate alongside other Western brands linked to the worst accident the clothing industry has seen.

Avaaz’s campaign director, Dalia Hashad told RFI that while she welcomed Benetton’s gesture, she expected more.

“Thousands of people lost their lives or had their lives completely destroyed and what we really needed to see from Benetton was that they embraced the values that they publicly hold out to the world,” she said. “That they would consider these people who make their clothes part of the Benetton family. We would have liked them to take a leadership position in providing stronger compensation to really sell the fund.”

Hashad said she hopes Benetton’s example, just a few days before the second anniversary of the tragedy, will encourage other brands with links to Rana Plaza to pay into the fund.

“From Carrefour, Walmart and the Children’s Place to JC Penney, all of them have either not given a cent or need to give more, so that’s what we hope to see in the coming days.”

Victims are beginning to benefit from compensation.

“While we’ve lost trace of some of the victims who returned to their region of origin, globally the first round of compensation has been completed, which is a big victory,” Aljatouni explained.

But two years down the line  some survivors are marked for life, unable to work because of their injuries but also barred from working due to discrimination, Hashad said.

“This is a tragedy from which people will never recover. There is discrimination against survivors of the Rana Plaza because they’re looked at as damaged goods. The need for full compensation is greater than ever.”

Meanwhile campaigners in France are calling for legislation to increase Western companies’ responsibility for working conditions in developing countries.

“Benetton’s attitude shows how urgent it is to build a binding liability between a company and its supply chain,” said Ajaltouni.

Last month a due diligence bill was voted at the French National Assembly to force companies to prevent risks relating to human and environmental rights violations.

But, due to successful lobbying, “the French government is now reluctant to put it on the Senate’s agenda,” Ajaltouni said, adding that companies would never undertake to do this of their own will.

One thing is sure, the Rana Plaza disaster highlighted the bleak conditions facing workers in poor countries producing garments for Western retailers.

For Hashad, the message is clear: “When workers die, companies can’t walk away. That needs to be a basic fact of doing business in this global economy."