At least two Bangladeshi garment factories whose workers were among those killed in a building collapse Wednesday had passed international labor and safety standard audits.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza commercial building north of Dhaka had led to the deaths of at least 200 people by Thursday afternoon, with scores more critically injured, Bangladeshi officials said. Hundreds of thousands of garment workers from the areas around Dhaka went on strike on Thursday in protest at poor safety standards, bringing production to a virtual standstill.
The factories, New Wave Style and Phantom Apparels, had been audited against a series of criteria by the Business Social Compliance Initiative.
The BSCI was set up a decade ago by the Brussels-based Foreign Trade Association, a body that comprises some 1,000 European retailers such as Adidas AG, ADS.XE -0.36% Esprit Holdings Ltd. 0330.HK -0.40% and Hugo Boss BOSS.XE +0.53% AG.
The initiative’s staff audits factories in countries like Bangladesh and India to ensure they meet a range of standards, including workers’ rights, prohibition of child labor and a safe and healthy workplace.
In a statement, it acknowledged that New Wave Style and Phantom Apparels had “been audited against the BSCI Code of Conduct.”
But the statement said the group’s auditors did not take the state of the Rana Plaza building into account when it conducted the checks.
Workers there were evacuated Tuesday after a large crack appeared on the exterior wall of the building. But they were asked by factory managers to return to work Wednesday morning, soon after which the building collapsed.
The BSCI said it “focuses on monitoring and improving labor issues within factories.” It said it was the job of “local authorities to ensure the construction and infrastructure is secure.”
The group said Bangladesh had adequate laws governing the safety of buildings but these were not properly implemented. The statement did not say when it conducted its audits of the factories or how often it carries out such checks.
Christian von Mitzlaff, its representative in Bangladesh, declined to comment. The group’s headquarters in Brussels did not immediately respond to questions.
Big U.S. and European retailers increasingly have sourced garments from Bangladesh as wages in China have risen. Bangladesh is now the world’s second-largest supplier of ready-made apparel after China.
These companies rely on trade association initiatives like BSCI’s, independent third-party assessors and their own in-house auditors to monitor Bangladeshi suppliers.
Workers’ groups complain such checks have been unable to stop poor safety standards, with over 700 people dying in factory fires in recent years. Building collapses also have led to deaths.
Bangladesh’s government has promised to take action.
In March, the nation’s ministry of labor and employment, along with international labor unions and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, adopted a national action plan on fire safety for the industry. Plans included modernizing equipment, increasing the number of fire stations in industrial areas and overhauling fire- and building-safety laws and regulations, inspections and worker training.