The Industry looks at whether corporate social responsibility can realistically be used as a vehicle to evoke change after the Bangladesh factory collapse.
As the death toll after the Bangladesh factory collapse has continued to mount, the refusal of global retailers to pay for strict nationwide inspections has sparked polemic debate surrounding the responsibilities businesses should take when working with firms from developing countries.
“Wednesday’s collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed more than 300 people is the worst disaster to hit Bangladesh’s fast-growing and politically powerful garment industry,” reported the Guardian last week. “For those attempting to overhaul conditions for workers who are paid as little as $38 a month, it is a grim reminder that corporate social responsibility programs are failing to deliver on lofty promises.”
Retailers say they are working to improve safety measures, but the sheer size of the country’s textile industry makes this no easy feat. Not only does Bangladesh house almost 4,000 factories, after China it exports the largest amount of garments, produced at the lowest wage in the world. Then there’s the issue of subcontracts, farmed out by factories when they are unable to fulfil orders on time.
“Improvement is not happening. The multinational companies claim a lot of things. They claim they have very good policies, they have their own code of conduct, they have their auditing and monitoring system,” explains Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation. “But yet these things keep happening.”
In the last five months alone, there have been 41 fires in Bangladesh factories. Whilst some have been quick to point the finger at global retailers, others have asked why the local government continues to turn a blind eye. It takes two to tango, and a collaborative framework is surely the way forward. Not only does it divide the task, it has the potential to multiply the success.