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.