Bangladesh Factory Tragedy Triggers Reform in Garment Industry

It took the tragic collapse of Rana Plaza and the deaths of over 1,100 garment workers, but consumers and industry experts alike have been spurred to action. More than one million consumers around the world voiced their concern for worker safety by signing petitions advocating that brands improve their accountability for supply chain practices; meanwhile, thanks to the good work of people like our friends Linda and Kevin at Maquila Solidarity Network and Bob Walker at Ethical Funds, labour rights groups and socially responsible investment groups are successfully pressuring retailers and manufacturing companies to ensure continuous improvement to working conditions by getting them to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

Under the terms of the Accord, brands and retailers are required to guarantee independent safety inspections, safety training, mandatory repairs and renovations to the factories in their supply chain and to terminate business with non-compliant suppliers. Before the collapse at Rana Plaza, only PVH and Tchibo had signed the Accord; since the collapse, 38 companies, including Loblaws, have signed on.

If the deaths of the workers in the Rana Plaza collapse are not to be in vain, we must ensure that the Bangladesh Accord is strong and successful and we must build on that success until all workers can feel safe and secure on the job.

Loblaws and Joe Fresh waking up to more bad news

Every CEO wants to sit down with their coffee and open the paper to find their company making headlines – but not like this.

Joe Fresh Image

Consumers across Canada are looking at the labels in their clothing and wondering if the t-shirt they put on this morning was made in Bangladesh and if the person that made it died yesterday in the catastrophic collapse of a garment factory in Dhakar.  Loblaws, the parent company of the Joe Fresh brand is scrambling to contain a public relations nightmare as word spreads that some of their garments were, in fact, made in that factory.

Loblaws had done its homework, they had audit systems in place to ensure that their clothing was made without child labour and with fair pay and decent working conditions.  But they forgot about the building.  No one thought to ask if the building itself was safe.  Creating comprehensive audits to protect the workers in your supply chain and your brand is what Reeve Consulting specializes in; it is our hope that by encouraging companies to engage in this dialogue and practice that future disasters can be avoided.

Joe Fresh and other Canadian Brands caught up in Bangladesh Ethical Sourcing Tragedy

Today we learned of the devastating collapse of a factory building in Bangladesh, in which some well-known Western brands, such as Joe Fresh, were having their clothing manufactured.  While our sympathies are with the victims and their families, this tragedy brings into focus how important it is for companies who are manufacturing items overseas and domestically to have robust auditing and sustainable and ethical purchasing practices.

This is not the first such tragedy in Dhaka. Just five months ago, a fire killed 112 people in another garment factory. Faulty electrical wiring combined with few and narrow exits were to blame for the deaths. A year before the incident, the factory was purportedly flagged with an “orange” grade by a Walmart ethical sourcing official for “violations and/or conditions which were deemed to be high risk”.  Yet, major brands such as Benetton, Children’s Place, Mango and Walmart were all associated with this tragedy.

Here at home we’ve also seen the effects of poor working conditions ending in tragic situations. Examples such as the mushroom farm in Langley, BC where three people died and two suffered permanent brain damage when entering a pump shed where toxic gas had accumulated. The farm’s composting facility had been operating without an occupancy permit and the Township of Langley had reportedly been trying to shut it down for two years. When manufacturers cut corners and ignore warnings about safety for the sake of their profit margin, they endanger their employees.

Factors like fair pay, good working conditions, health benefits and banning child labour are strategic supply chain issues. Making sure that buildings are in safe and operational condition with no violations is just as imperative as banning child labour, or ensuring fair pay. Responsible sourcing across a supply chain is a process of continual improvement. Working to put the right steps and measures in place takes effort. But the downside risk to a brand when things go bad can sometimes be too much to recover from. Too often, a public relations department is left scrambling after unfortunate events such as this one in Bangladesh, and in 2013 we are still hearing far too often of families left destitute and grieving.

Reeve Consulting is a boutique consultancy that helps clients enhance their brand, their profitability, and their social license by working with them to strategically re-think how they approach the ethical and environmental issues affecting their supply chain.