Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rana Plaza building collapse: Compliance codes

Could the buyers involved in purchasing from any one of the five garment factories based in the Rana Plaza building have done more to stop the building collapsing? This is a matter of the quality of the compliance regimes set up by the buyers. Here is an article about how compliance codes organised by different buyers might have prevented it.

Daily Telegraph: British firms did not follow new safety regime for clothing production (2 May, 2013)
Primark and Bonmarche, the British clothing retailers, failed to join other companies in introducing safety rules that would have barred any purchases from a factory inside the Bangladeshi building that collapsed last week.
The worst industrial disaster in the country’s history has officially claimed 501 lives, although hundreds more are still missing.
Primark, which has 161 shops in Britain, and Bonmarche, with 360 outlets, have acknowledged that a garment factory inside the now ruined building was part of their supply chain.
This business, known as New Wave Ltd, was one of four factories located inside Rana Plaza.
In January, J.C. Penney, an American clothing retailer which also buys from Bangladesh introduced new rules for its supply chain. Jenefa Jabbar, the company’s regional social responsibility director, said: “Since 1 January this year, if any of our manufacturers operated above a market, worked in a building where there were other garment manufacturers, or where the building did not have permission to be built with the number of floors that it had, we stopped buying from them.”
Rana Plaza broke all of these requirements. The building housed a market and four garment factories. It also had more storeys than were contained in the original plan, helping to explain the structural weakness that lay behind the building’s sudden collapse.
”Because of the three conditions we have set, our companies would not be doing business with any of the companies from the Rana Plaza, which in fact broke all three,” added Ms Jabbar. Wal-Mart, the US retailer, also introduced similar requirements for its Bangladeshi supply chain.
But Primark and Bonmarche did not do so. Had they taken this step, no factory in Rana Plaza would have been eligible to join their supply chain. Primark declined to comment yesterday. A Bonmarche spokesman said: “Our suppliers are contracted to standards specified by us in our supplier manual which are in line with retail industry standards.”
When Rana Plaza collapsed last Wednesday, the building was eight storeys high. However, it was originally planned to have six storeys, said Khandaker Shabbir Ahmed, a professor of architecture at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, who had access to the building’s plans while advising the rescue teams after the disaster.
“The only plan that was available from the local administration was for a six storey building with a semi-basement. There were no plans available for the other two floors that were built,” he said. “In order to build two more floors legally, there should have been plans in the first place for the other two floors as well.”
Primark declined to say if it was aware that Rana Plaza had more than the permitted number of storeys. Bonmarche said it had “no knowledge of the Rana Plaza safety issues, prior to this terrible tragedy”.
Emdadul Islam, the chief engineer of the Capital Development Authority in Dhaka, said that when Rana Plaza was on the drawing board, the prospective owners did not get the right permission for its construction. “The owners did not come to us at the capital development authority to get permission. They went instead to local authority. The local authority did not have the mandated responsibility to give this permission,” said Mr Islam.
He questioned whether Rana Plaza was ever designed to house garment factories. “My assumption is that it was built for residential or offices and then lent out for the RMG [ready-made garments] sector,” said Mr Islam, adding that the introduction of factories would have caused “huge overloading” of the building’s structure.
The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), which includes Primark, said yesterday that its members would adopt a Bangladesh fire and building safety plan to prevent future disasters. This would provide for factory improvements to “meet an agreed minimum standard”. Peter McAllister, head of the ETI, said: “We are committed to driving real, sustainable change for workers by tackling the chronic, widespread health and safety issues.”
Clare Lissaman, from the Ethical Fashion Forum, urged Western retailers to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, which provides for the independent inspection of all factories in the supply chain, monitored by the workers themselves. “This puts the workers first and foremost and helps them to say what isn’t right,” she said. “You need a collaborative, worker-centric approach.”

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