Textile industry certificates more for show than safety

BSCI complaint on TÜV Rheinland’s audit report for Rana Plaza manufacturer

Certificates attesting to safety and working conditions in the textile industry are good for a corporation’s image but are of little use to those working in global production and supply chains. This was made all too clear by the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,130 people. German technical inspection company TÜV Rheinland audited the Phantom Apparel Ltd. production facilities just a few months before the catastrophe. The German certification company failed to address building safety and construction flaws and a number of other problems were not raised in its report. TÜV Rheinland was appointed as auditor by a member of the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI). The BSCI is a corporate platform based in part on the standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and is supposed to monitor and improve safety and working conditions in production countries.

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), FEMNET and the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), medico international and the Activist Anthropologist Collective from Bangladesh have submitted a joint complaint to the BSCI. The organizations are calling on the BSCI to disclose the audit contract as well as the reports on Rana Plaza by TÜV Rheinland and others and to overhaul the approach of inspection reports. “The certificates don’t tell us much. Consumers need to know exactly what is monitored,” says Miriam Saage-Maaß, head of the Business and Human Rights program at ECCHR. “But above all: we need to be able to hold the certification companies and the bodies that commission them liable for their actions.”

To date none of the companies involved have taken legal responsibility for the Rana Plaza catastrophe. “When disasters happen in the textile industry, producers, buyers and traders like to hide behind certificates of safety and working standards to dodge responsibility,” says Gisela Burkhardt, chairperson of FEMNET, a member of CCC. TÜV Rheinland did not adequately inspect the documentation of the building safety nor the worker’s records at Phantom Apparel Ltd. in Rana Plaza. This is shown by the investigative reports on the collapse as well as by victim statements. “If the inspections are inadequate then the certificates are not worth the paper they’re written on,” says Thomas Seibert, South Asia coordinator for medico international. “In order to restore workers’ faith in the social auditing mechanism a fundamental change in the philosophy and agenda of BSCI is necessary. Today workers consider such inspection processes a meaningless ritual,” says Saydia Gulrukh, from the Activist Anthropologist Collective.