Ethical organisations have urged companies to scrutinise their supply chains, perform regular audits and address potential risks to prevent tragedies.
It follows in the wake of the building collapse in Bangladesh, which claimed the lives of at least 380 people.
Sedex – the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange – and ETI (the Ethical Trading Initiative) called on both suppliers and brands to raise factory safety standards following the disaster at the eight-storey Rana Plaza garment factory in Savar last week.
At least 3,000 people are estimated to have been in the building at the time of the collapse – believed to be the worst disaster in the history of Bangladesh’s $19 billion (£12.26 billion) garment industry.
Sedex described the tragedy as a “stark reminder” of the devastating impact that neglecting basic health and safety requirements can have. The organisation, which helps companies manage ethical supply chain risk, cited its own audit data on Bangladesh-based factories, which identified “critical safety issues”.
Fire safety fears, including blocked aisles and exits and inadequate or missing fire fighting equipment, were among the common concerns identified, as were improper building certificates, standards and controls.
“The immediate priorities must be with rescue efforts and providing support and care for those affected by this tragedy,” said Carmel Giblin, CEO at Sedex. “Audits have a crucial role to play in shining a spotlight on those critical responsible supply chain risks that require action, but corrective actions to address these issues are equally vital.
“Examples of best practice do exist in Bangladesh. We encourage brands and their suppliers to pay close attention to these and address risks before they turn into tragedies.”
The latest disaster comes just five months after a major fire at a garment factory near Dhaka, in which 112 workers lost their lives. The collapse of another clothing factory in Baipail, Savar, eight years ago left 73 workers dead.
In a statement, the ETI said the incidents demonstrated “chronic widespread” issues in the sector that affect the most basic of workers’ rights. “These incidents serve as yet another call to action for the Bangladesh industry, government, retailers, workers’ representatives and NGOs to work together to raise workplace safety standards,” it said. “Every worker is entitled to work in an environment that is protected against risks such as building collapses and fires, through robust health and safety systems and safeguards."
Last night, Primark announced it would compensate the families of the most recent Bangladesh garment factory disaster and provide emergency aid. “Primark notes the fact that its supplier shared the building with those of other retailers,” the company said in a statement. “We are fully aware of our responsibility. We urge these other retailers to come forward and offer assistance.”
Since last November, the ETI has worked with its members who source from Bangladesh, IndustriALL (the global union for the sector) and key NGOs to ensure a robust, long-term engagement to drive better standards and develop a common approach to improve factory conditions and address health and safety issues. It demanded immediate action to raise factory safety standards and prevent such “tragic loss of life in the future”.
“We call for effective collaboration, transparent efforts to meet minimum factory safety standards and meaningful worker engagement through the mandated factory health and safety committees,” the ETI said. “There is an agreed national plan in place that needs to be implemented as a matter of urgency, with full international support and clear accountability.”