Report and Recommended Actions from Symposia on “Women’s Rights to Dignity, Security and Justice: The Rana Plaza Collapse and the Triangle Fire: Consequences and Accountability”

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Women’s Rights to Dignity, Security and Justice
The Rana Plaza Collapse and the Triangle Fire: Consequences and Accountability

Under the above title a symposium organized as a parallel civil society event during the 59th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women was held at the Fordham University School of Law at Lincoln Center on March 14, 2015.

Organized by Pasos Peace Museum and the International Institute on Peace Education, the symposium was sponsored by the Biosophical Institute and cosponsored by The Network for Peace through Dialogue, CONNECT, World Council for Curriculum for Curriculum and Instruction, Voice of Women for Peace-Canada, Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

The third in a series of CSW symposia, focusing on crimes against women, their struggle for justice and possibilities for achieving criminal responsibility was based on the presentation of two quilts, one memorializing the victims of the collapse Rana Plaza, a textile plant (Bangladesh 2012) and the other the Triangle Fire that destroyed a shirtwaist factory (New York 1911). Both events claimed the lives of poor young women, the majority of the victims. An interactive program included viewing and discussing the messages of the quilts, a panel on the development of the quilts with cooperation from survivors of the disasters, art forms for educating and raising public awareness and discussion of possibilities for legal accountability citizen action to advance and protect the human rights of workers.

Panelist included Robin Berson, an historian, member of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition and quilt maker who researched, designed and made the two quilts; Tiffany Millieon, a lawyer and member of the board of Pasos, Peace Museum; and Janet Gerson, Progam Director of the International Institute on Peace Education. Betty Reardon presided.

The intention of the organizers was to focus on the violence against women inherent in unjust and unsafe working conditions imposed by agents of the international textile industry. To encourage education about the issues, including existing laws and standards to protect and ensure labor rights, to engage in collaborative reflection on the potential of civil society action to assure their implementation and prosecute their violation. Toward this end the participants engaged in small group, very productive strategy planning discussions that produced the suggestions that appear below.

Actions in Support of Fair Labor Practices

as summarized by Betty Reardon

The participant discussions produced a range of action suggestions to be undertaken in the face of widespread and grossly unjust working conditions in the world’s textile and garment industries. The actions fell into four general categories: Education of the general public and in the schools; Civil society initiatives that individuals, community organizations and social agents could pursue; Political and legal steps to require enforcement of fair labor standards and criminal accountability for their violation. Following is a summary of some of the main actions suggestions in those categories.


A number of the participants, organizers and cosponsors were educators and all agreed that educational measures were essential to the achievement of the change the session was seeking to facilitate. Among them were:

  • Introducing the subject of national and international labor standards into civic and human rights education in the schools;
  • Introduce the study of social ethics and human rights standards into school curricula;
  • Encouraging youth to learn through engagement in social action for fair labor practices;
  • Programs and learning projects to engage all citizens in critical thinking toward social action to overcome the economic exploitation and oppressive labor conditions of textile workers.

Social actions

All participants were to some degree engaged in social action for justice and peace, sharing a concern for the injustice imposed by working conditions in factories in developing countries, producing garments for major transnational corporations, the production sites largely managed by regional and local subcontractors, subject to fewer and lower legal standards. Among the suggestions to address the unjust consequences of these economic arrangements were:

  • Individuals and groups review labor conditions of enterprises under consideration for investments;
  • Comparison shopping on the basis of labor practices of manufactures;
  • Seeking to indentify and hold accountable subcontractors employed in actual production for major manufacturing firms and holding both accountable for any and all violations of labor rights;
  • Pressure companies to change through demonstrations and public information campaigns;
  • Persuade manufactures to better practices through labeling such as, “ This garment was produced under fair conditions.”
  • Public agitation for basic living wage for all workers world-wide;
  • Encourage the making and display of protest arts such as quilts, films and murals through which to educate broader publics, encouraging more widespread citizen action.

Political and Legal

This symposium inspired by the lethal disaster at Rana Plaza was the third organized as a side event to the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. As with the previous two, one of main purposes of the organizers was to consider the possibilities for holding legally accountable those responsible for the gross human rights violations inflicted by various forms of violence against women, so as to overcome the impunity still enjoyed by perpetrators, especially at the highest levels of governance and corporate capitalism. Toward this end some of the suggestions for action were:

  • Enforce at all levels compliance with international and national standards on fair labor practices and the fundamental human rights of workers;
  • Build public support for labor unions at all levels of social organization;
  • Persuade the United Nations to insert fair labor standards and healthful, safe working conditions into the Sustainable Development Goals;
  • Establish legal requirements for transparency of information on labor practices from major manufacturers and subcontractors;
  • Legislate requirements for subcontractors to be bound by national and international fair labor standards and the full range of the fundamental human rights of all workers.

March 2015

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