At least 29 global brands were identified as doing business with one or more of the five factories in the Rana Plaza building.
Each was “a complicit participant in the creation of an environment that ultimately led to the deaths and maiming of thousands”, said Clean Clothes Campaign. Yet the problem was far wider than just those brands. It was a systemic problem. In a sense every shopper choosing clothes on the basis of cheapest price was complicit.
The industry vowed to do better. Within a month 222 companies signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement meant to ensure garment workers had safe workplaces.
Things have improved. But not enough. Eight years on, the fundamental problems in global supply chains – the disconnect between profits, accountability and responsibility – remains.
Compliance a charade
This disconnect was glaring when we interviewed Bangladesh manufacturers and Australian retailer in 2018 as part of our research.
Retailers maintained they were living up to their obligations by only sourcing garments from manufacturers complying with the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
But manufacturers told us their compliance was often a charade. As one said:
Changes brought in after Rana Plaza, such as limiting the worker overtime hours and availability of a nurse and a childcare worker in the facility, are often only done for the day of auditing.
The reason: to keep costs low. As another manufacturer said:
Though we are complying to the rules established by the retailer to promote safe production practices, price and quality still plays an important role in getting the orders.
Pocketing the profits
Here’s the problem illustrated in terms of a T-shirt.
According to Clean Clothes Campaign – an organisation backed by 230 unions, non-government organisations and research bodies – just 0.6% of the retail price of a t-shirt goes to the worker.
The factory owner takes 4% as profit. The brand label takes 12%. But the retailer takes 59%.