Ismael Ferdous for CRS

That We May Know Easter Joy: Lament for Rana Plaza

Christopher Cox

For a fourth time, people around the world will commemorate the anniversary of history’s deadliest garment industry disaster. On April 24, 2013, near Dhaka in Bangladesh, the eight-story Rana Plaza building collapsed taking the lives of 1,134 workers and injuring more than 2,500. Littered among the rubble were labels for American brands, as much of the clothing produced there was destined for the United States. At the time, Pope Francis remarked, “Living on 38 euros ($50) a month – that was the pay of these people who died. That is called slave labor.”

Over the last thirty years we have begun to see corporations as increasingly responsible for human rights violations from human trafficking to child labor. Conversely, we have neglected to take responsibility in our role as consumers, continuing to demand new, cheap stuff. As a result, our burgeoning closets are catalysts for disasters in the lives of those who work in fields, farms and factories, often times leading to the deaths of the world’s most poor and vulnerable.

The faces of Bangladesh: Rahima Begum works on building her future “dream home.”

Tragically, we frequently are immunized from seeing the consequences of our consumption amid what Pope Francis calls “the globalization of indifference.” In Evangelii Gaudium, he writes:

“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.” #54

What can we do?

We need the tragedy of Rana Plaza to trouble us but not paralyze us. We know that guilt is a poor motivator for lasting change. Even perfect information about supply chains and corporate social responsibility will not, in and of itself, change our behavior. In our dispersed global supply chains, where the periphery is hidden from view, we must allow the lament of those workers injured and of those who lost loved ones to reveal to us the injustice made habitual and unconscious. This is one place where society desperately needs communities of faith to be able to thrive, for an authentic faith community can perhaps best move us from indifference to compassion.

Pope Francis’ recipe for that movement from indifference to compassion is the “kerygma”, the heart of the Gospel. Christ’s death and resurrection is, indeed, Good News that should be proclaimed and we are reminded of this throughout the Easter narratives. Jesus died so that our sins may be forgiven- that we may have eternal life.

In a similar way, we consumers will only know an abiding joy when our guilt and overwhelming unease yields to a compassionate solidarity with those whom we have exploited. To lament is to wrestle with difficult questions through suffering and conversion. Gradually, we become more aware of our complicity in the violence of global supply chains and no longer seek to hide it. Our exultant Easter Alleluias can only be born of Good Friday’s lamentation.

The faces of Bangladesh: Kajol Rari (pink sari) meets with Caritas Bangladesh community outreach worker Mithu Rani Das (white cap).

Christopher Cox is the campaign manager for The Human Thread, a Catholic organization, founded in the aftermath of Rana Plaza, that promotes solidarity between consumers of clothing and the people who produce them in order to create a more just economy and sustainable communities.