x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Retailers can curb Bangladesh misery

The Rana Plaza tragedy should be the reason for retailers and suppliers to better identify and understand their operational and supply chain risk and improve workforce safety practices

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the worst disaster in the history of the garment industry. On April 24, 2013, the eight-storey Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed near Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, killing 1,138 people. The tragedy highlighted the appalling safety conditions in the country’s $22 billion (Dh80bn) clothing industry.

Approximately 75 per cent of survivors have not returned to work since and two-thirds of that number have no hope of ever-returning to work, such is the severity of the injuries they sustained. Despite the incident triggering talk of a crackdown on unsafe factories and of improving labour conditions, next to nothing has changed on the ground.

The evidence was provided recently by inspectors, who had been commissioned by US and European clothing companies to check factories in Dhaka supplying goods to western retailers. Their findings were shocking: rather than the disaster precipitating a reduction in the number of unsafe workplaces, more shoddy factories exist than a year ago.

It’s not difficult to understand why. The employment situation is dire in Bangladesh. Even though the government claims to have raised minimum wages to $68 a month, this is still one of the lowest basic wages in the world.

Unfortunately, Bangladesh’s economy is heavily reliant on demand from western brands. That’s why global retailers must address the conditions in which their garments are being produced and be held accountable for labour and safety conditions within their supply chains.

The lesson of the Rana Plaza disaster must be that the issue of labour-related globalisation needs continuous oversight.

Retailers and suppliers should use this catastrophe as the reason to better identify and understand their operational and supply chain risk, improve workforce safety practices and reduce reputational risk.

For conditions to improve in Bangladesh, international retailers and consumers ought to remember the Dhaka tragedy not only on its first anniversary, but for years to come.