Social auditors protect brands, not RMG workers: report

Staff Correspondent | Published: 00:00, Sep 18,2019


Global social audit firms in the readymade garment sector have been protecting the profit and reputation of brands but failed to protect workers’ safety and improving their working condition, according to a global report.

Clean Clothes Campaign, a global workers’ rights group, on Tuesday published the report titled ‘Fig Leaf for Fashion: How social auditing protects brands and fails workers’ and it held social auditing industry responsible for number of fatal accidents in Bangladesh’s apparel sector.

The report exposed that multi-billion social auditing industry was operating as corporate social responsibility tool to protect brand reputation and profits while aggravating risks to garment workers.

In the report, CCC offered an extensive analysis of the corporate controlled audit industry, connecting the dots between the most well-known business-driven social compliance initiatives, such as Social Accountability International, WRAP, the FLA and amfori BSCI and the largest corporate-controlled auditing firms, including Bureau Veritas, TÜV Rheinland, UL, RINA and ELEVATE as well as the brand interests that they serve.

Evidence presented throughout the report showed how the social audit industry had failed spectacularly in its claimed mission of protecting workers’ safety and improving working conditions, the CCC said.

The report offered examples of corporate negligence through case studies from the past decade including the devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in April 2013, which killed 1,134 workers and left thousands more injured and traumatised, and the July 2017 boiler explosion in the Multifabs factory in Bangladesh, killing and injuring dozens of workers.

Report said that each of these factories had been assessed and declared safe by several of the prevailing auditing companies, including TÜV Rheinland, Bureau Veritas, and RINA, using the standard, methodology and guidance of leading compliance initiatives such as amfori BSCI and SAI.

In case of Rana Plaza, the audit farm TÜV Rheinland failed to notice the safety defects (or child labour) in the factory and even stated that the building was of ‘good construction quality’.

‘Similar, when Bureau Veritas audited another factory in the building it overlooked multiple obvious building violations,’ the report said.

The report claimed that a boiler explosion in the Multifabs factory in 2017 illustrated that TÜV Rheinland and Amfori BSCI had not learnt their lessons from Rana Plaza and their audit failed to highlight a broad range of safety defects.

CCC said that social auditing industry was operating with impunity and there had been few, if any negative repercussions for the auditing companies and social compliance initiatives involved in these deadly disasters.

‘In fact, these initiatives continue to grow, with revenues and profits of the industry key players increasing over the years, in tandem with the growing number of audited factories,’ the rights group said.

Twenty years of CSR has failed to improve labour conditions, and would continue to fail until there was an overhaul of the prevailing social auditing regime, Ben Vanpeperstraete, advocacy coordinator at Clean Clothes Campaign, an author of the report said.

Although social auditing was initially designed to address the criticisms raised by the multiple sweatshop exposes of the 1990s, the inherent flaws of the industry-led CSR system –such as lack of transparency, conflicts of interest, and a weak system for detecting, documenting, reporting, and remedying human rights risks and violations – had resulted in a failure to bring adequate improvement to working conditions, the report read.

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