Another horrible accident occurred last Saturday in a Bangladeshi factory. I took some excerpts from a good article (Bangladesh Factory Fire Puts Ethical Sourcing, Factory Conditions in Spotlight) I found:
A garment-factory fire in Bangladesh on Saturday killed 112 people trapped inside the building, or jumping to their deaths in buildings where safety is ignored in a retail rush for products to export.
How could it happen?
AP writes: “The fire alarm: Waved off by managers. An exit door: Locked. The fire extinguishers: Not working and apparently ‘meant just to impress’ inspectors and customers.
And was it a small production workshop? No!
The factory has produced garments for Walmart, Carrefour, C&A and IKEA, since opening in 2009 and employing about 1,700 people.
Did these importers know that their products were made in that factory? Apparently not all of them knew it.
Walmart stated on Monday that the factory in question was indeed producing pieces for the retailer — but without its knowledge, due to a subcontractor arrangement.
Should we pick on Walmart? I think it does more harm than good. Like Apple and Nike, Walmart tends to be finger-pointed by journalists when this kind of news pops up.
And what is the consequence of this negative overexposure in the media? They become tougher when it comes to enforcing social compliance standards. So tough that factories need to cheat during audits if they hope to get business. Talk to any CSR professional in China and he will confirm this.
So the real question is: how to eliminate the risk of associating your brand image with shady working conditions?
And can this risk be eliminated, while subcontracting production in low-cost Asian countries? I am not sure.
What I know is that social audits are not the solution.
Helping manufacturers improve their productivity and improve the dialogue between management and workers seems to make more sense.
A good example is what Tchibo is trying to do (read about their program).
Are other companies going down that road? I’d love to hear about other examples.