Thursday, 21 November 2013

Good news for buyers and workers on Bangladesh factory safety?

Last week I discussed the ongoing problems in Bangladesh clothing manufacturing and the reluctance to pay the agreed minimum wage - thankfully that moved on and agreement was reached. Although I can't help but feel that spirit of responsible manufacturing was somewhat lacking, after all the Prime Minister had to intervene.

Today we have learnt that three stakeholder groups are close to agreement on minimum safety standards (Accord on Fire and Safety in Bangladesh, Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, and National Tripartite Action Plan). This is potentially a good result for the European retailers involved but is it good enough?

The new standards will simplify inspections and therefore reduce costs to the buying organisations. They will also reduce inspection costs and disruption in the factories. Likewise the legally binding commitment of some of the buyers to maintain orders levels for the next two years and to share the cost of factory upgrades are positive steps for the workers.

However, if I was on the Board of one of the buying firms would I be relaxing? No, I don't think so. Consciences may be salved. New standards are good but can Board members of buying firms be sure they will be implemented, and that the standards are of sufficient level that the Board member would feel safe working with those as the minimum standard for the corporate HQ? No, this tentative agreement between such a varied group of stakeholders is likely to reflect consensus on the lowest common denominator as opposed to the best optimum solution for workers and buyers  - it is a step in the right direction but not the end of the journey,

CPOs have no cause to relax, they need to complete a risk assessment of the new regime and they need to made sure they are not abdicating responsibility. If the standards aren't high enough and there is another disaster, it won't be good enough the blame the standards - caveat emptor!

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