Yesterday, the BBC reported that 41 people face murder charges related to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh two years ago. The factory collapse, called the “worst industrial accident in the country’s history”, claimed the lives of more than 1,100 workers. Among those arrested in response to the investigation include government officials, owners of factories housed in the Rana Plaza complex and the complex owner, Sohel Rana. Those charged will receive the death penalty if convicted. So how might a social compliance audit have prevented the factory collapse and protected the manufacturer and the workers?
Avert Crisis with a Social Compliance Audit
In a previous article, we responded to the question of what is a social compliance audit. I also sat down with compliance expert Steve Mogentale for a podcast interview in which he discussed the risks of not auditing suppliers and cited the Rana Plaza collapse as a potential consequence.
Factory audits for compliance can uncover poor labor practices – the use of child labor, excessive overtime and withholding wages are among the more common issues. But factory audits also look for issues related to workers’ safety and structural integrity.
Following the collapse, it was found that three additional floors were added to the building after the original building permit was issued. An audit following Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) procedure verifies factories are consistent with building permits. BSCI auditors are required to report on such a discrepancy. But an audit conducted before the collapse did not show these findings – some believe due to a lack of incentives to report such violations.
So where was the oversight? It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to make sure their suppliers are socially compliant. Compliance is best assured by a factory audit. An audit conducted properly by a reputable third-party would have found the building code violation that caused the factory collapse and reported it.
Who Benefits from a Factory Audit for Compliance?
The consequences of no social compliance are demonstrated by the grim aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. First and foremost, many people lost their lives, while many others were badly injured. A dozen government officials and dozens of others responsible may face execution due to negligence. Retailers with products manufactured in the factory that fell were affected by negative publicity when consumers learned their brands were linked to that supplier. In short, a factory audit for social compliance provides transparency and points out any violations so the supplier can improve to meet retailer standards and employ safe and ethical labor practices. Everyone along the supply chain, from the worker that makes the product to the end-consumer that buyers it, stands to benefit from this added oversight.
We’ve seen the damage done by not affectively auditing suppliers and improving to meet acceptable standards. The Rana Plaza factory collapse remains an example of the consequences still being felt by this lapse in accountability. Bangladesh is taking a firm stance by bringing criminal charges against those responsible.
The main lesson here for buyers is simple – be aware of what’s going on in the factories that supply your products. Where are the goods being manufactured? What are the working conditions of the factory? And is the supplier in violation of any commonly-accepted standards. The best way to answer these questions and prevent not only consequences to your business, but also potential criminal charges is by auditing your supplier for social compliance.