The Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation For Documentary Photography & Film
2016 Photography Co-Laureate – Ismail Ferdous
Project: after rana plaza
Region/Impact: Human Exploitation, working conditions and corporate responsibility in developing countries in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Always fascinated in the human stories of unreachable communities, Ismail Ferdous has travelled the globe as a documentary photographer. Major news and media publications have reported his work on the effects of global warming, HIV/AIDS, violence against women in Guatemala, refugees along the border of Turkey and Syria and human trafficking in Southeast Asia. But on April 24, 2013, this Bangladeshi photographer, at home in Dhaka, had to travel just a few miles to witness not only the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, but the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history.
Bangladesh relies on the textile and clothing industries for economic growth and is second to only China as the largest apparel exporter of western brands. The garment industry is the livelihood of the Bangladeshi people.
On the scene in the Savar Upazila of Dhaka, Ismail Ferdous documented search and rescue efforts from the collapse of an eight story commercial building named Rana Plaza that would ultimately leave 1,129 dead and 2,515 injured.
Rana Plaza housed numerous garment factories employing around 5,000 people and manufactured apparel for brands including Benetton, Bonmarché, the Children’s Place, Matalan, Primark and Walmart. It’s reported that the garment workers were ordered to return to work the day after cracks had appeared in the structure. Collapsing during the morning rush-hour, more than half of the victims were women, along with a number of their children who were in nursery facilities within the building.
Direct reasons for the collapse include unauthorized construction on a pond, conversion from commercial use to industrial use, the addition of 4 floors above the original permit and he use of substandard construction material. The death toll was exasperated by insufficient evacuation plans, lax and corrupt building inspectors and pressure to meet production quotas.
Ismail Ferdous was there beside the global news and media to report and document countless tragic scenes as they unfolded, the initial aftermath and the global condemnation. The stories he encountered remain with him since that first day; family members frantically searching for loved ones, the wounded, the dead, the volunteers, and the aid workers.
But as the search and rescue ended, so did the media’s attention. In the aftermath, without worldwide attention, the plight of the victims went undocumented. Families of the lost victims have not been compensated. Survivors unable to work due to physical and mental injuries sustained in the collapse were left to struggle on their own. Many corporations who sourced products from the Rana Plaza refused to take responsibility and compensate the survivors and families of victims.
Ismail Ferdous knew in his heart that he could not leave the tragedies of the Rana Plaza so quickly. As a Bangladeshi photographer covering such a tragedy in his homeland, his purpose as a photographer became clearer, “to do all I can in order to never witness such a senseless event again.”
“After Rana Plaza” is a documentary photo project that explores the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse. It will shed light on why such a senseless tragedy occurred. The Rana Plaza building collapse could have been avoided. The poor and unsafe working conditions inside the factories need to be addressed. It will bring awareness to a global issue that involves not only the responsibility of factory owners themselves but the countless apparel companies that source their products from these factories. These fashion corporations need to take part in the responsibility of the collapse to ensure that the factories they hire are adhering to human rights and international labor laws.