Rana Plaza Project Days Three and Four

18 May 13

Posted at 10:07

I am still being defeated by technology so this again is a text only blog. There will be images galore in coming days. Yesterday I took time out of the Rana Plaza project to do some shooting for a charity the Al Mustafa Welfare Trust on behalf of the Media Trust. This was to involve photographing orphans and their mothers. That may sound odd but in Bangladesh you are classed as an orphan if your father dies and the consequences are grim financially and, especially if you are a girl, the extended family, brothers and sisters on the fathers side may disown you. So the Al Mustafa charity helps such orphans and the Mothers. The project involved travelling out of Dhaka to a village in Kirshorgong District called Motlovpur. The journey was a three hour roller coaster ride. Our driver seemed to think that Allah and constant use of the car's horn would enable him to have a clear path through traffic and that all and sundry would get out if his way. 

We finally arrived at Motlovpur with everyone's nerves torn to shreds except the driver. A wonderful rural scene, rice harvesting, goats and ducks everywhere, such contrasts from Dhaka. As soon as we walked into the village I was surrounded by inquisitive and somewhat amazed villagers. It would appear that I was the first Westerner to visit Motlovpur. In addition to me and Roni my 'fixer' we were accompanied by a man from the charity who now resided in Dhaka but was born and brought up in this village. I met, interviewed around a dozen orphans and their Mothers or in some cases Grandmothers. Visited their houses, simple corrugated iron shacks and photographed them in line with my brief. Everywhere we went a crowd appeard and smiled and stared at me. We were invited to lunch in the house of an elder of the village as we ate a big crowd of villages, their dogs, goats and ducks gathered around the door and windows (no glass) to watch me eat!

We spent a about three hours in the village and then had a torturous five hour journey back to Dhaka. Allah looked kindly on our driver but I'm not sure many of the rickshaws, trucks and buses he attempted to run off the road did. We were so late back to Dhaka I missed a planned shoot at a garment factory as part of the Rana Plaza project.

So this morning Roni and I set off to shoot in a garment factory. So far I have shot the Rana Plaza site, and have interviewed and photographed survivors both in hospital and at home, rescuers,  bereaved families and the families of those still missing. The final piece of my project was to photograph inside a working garment factory. At the first factory, and when I say factory it's not what you might imagine, we finally met with the owners, having waded through the hierarchy that seems to exist everywhere in Bangladesh, only to be told that we did not have sufficient papers or permissions from the government. This happened time and time again. We ventured into dark and dingy buildings, climbing dodgy stairs, got past various security and lower level people to finally meet the owners and ask for permission to photograph, We explained my project, my student status and how I will tell the story of the Rana Plaza in a photographic exhibition. The owners then with smiley faces told us in no uncertain terms we could not have permission to photograph in their factory. They were sorry but government rules wouldn't allow us without the correct paperwork. Roni suggested that they thought we were either safety officials or foreign media looking to exploit their poor work conditions or lack of safety.

We were about to give up when we got to our final garment factory, we agreed to try just one more time. We waded through the familiar hierarchy and arrived in the owner's office Mr J.M. Shamsul Arefin of Mayc's Garments Limited in Mirpur Dhaka. I ran through my now familiar story and tried to cover off the negative points other owners had made. Mr Arefin was nice and offered us tea, a first. Him and Roni exchanged words in Bangla. Roni smiled and said to me we have permission.

A  manager took us to two different floors and I was free to take photos of what and who I wished. To me this was a clean and not overcrowded factory with obvious safety facilities. I doubt the previous factories had this standard and am sure the Rana Plaza did not. After shooting I returned to Mr Arefin's office thanked him and congratulated him on his factory. I also took his photograph which seemed to impress him. As a foreigner I stand little chance of getting into a substandard factory in the current environment. The Rana Plaza collapse really is a national disaster and embarrassment and I think will lead ultimately to improved conditions.

i find it interesting that Macy's export mainly to German retailers not to the USA/British multinationals that used Rana Plaza manufacturers, the Primarks, Gap, H&M, even Benneton who deny buying from Rana Plaza manufacturers but had their paperwork found in the wreckage. Are the Germans willing to demand safety levels? Are they willing to pay just a few pence per garment more to look after the well being and safety of local workers? It seems so to me, I will investigate further.


I took a photograph of bobbins loaded with cotton feeding the machines, it made me shudder when I rembered the hundreds of bobbins I saw and photographed in the debris of the Rana Plaza where 1127 bodies were recovered over 2000 were seriously injured and  up to 500 are still unaccounted for.