Commemorating the Rana Plaza collapse

On Sunday 24 April, it will be three years since the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh. The tragedy initiated a flood of negative reporting about the fashion industry. The message: clothing brands are only interested in rapidly changing collections, and not in the seamstresses who make them possible. 

Fortunately, the picture is not as dark as it is sometimes painted. FWF members are actively making efforts to improve working conditions. Companies that want to succeed have to answer this question: does the way we run our company help to improve working conditions?

The importance of good management practices by clothing brands cannot be understated. Factory inspections alone are not enough to bring about lasting change. With insight into specific aspects for improvement, brands can work together with factories to move towards a more socially responsible clothing industry.

Long term relationships
All Fair Wear Foundation members annually have to show what they are doing to improve working conditions. The brands must face scrutiny: at how many factories does one brand account for over 10% of the factory’s production capacity? Companies with a larger share of production at a specific location will have more leverage with factory managers to influence working conditions.

Another example: with how many factories has a brand had a working relationship of at least five years? Long term relationships between factories and brands are essential. Factories will be more inclined to invest in improvements if they know a brand will still be there next season rather than switch to a cheaper location.

And the list goes on: how does a brand deal with complaints from employees? Does it invest in training? Are short delivery times putting excessive pressure on a factory? These are examples that go to the heart of the frequently pitiful working conditions that prevail in clothing factories.

High pressure, low prices
The Rana Plaza factory collapse brought fire and building safety to the spotlight. FWF requires its own member brands to adhere to an enhanced programme for monitoring and remediation at their Bangladeshi suppliers. This includes ensuring credible inspections and contributing to remediation of problems found, as well as a training programme. As a first step, all factories in Bangladesh supplying FWF members are required to participate in a workshop on the principles of building and fire safety.

Building safety also requires changes in the way brands do business with their suppliers. High pressure on production deadlines, unreasonably low prices and unpredictable orders all inhibit adequate investment in safe buildings. These pressures also encourage unsafe practices, like propping open the fire doors to shave a few minutes off production time.

Needs improvement, Good or Leader
FWF’s measuring instrument, the Brand Performance Check offers detailed insight into what FWF member brands are doing to improve working conditions in garment factories. Each company is measured against a range of indicators. Based on these scores, a brand is rated Leader, Good or Needs Improvement. The reports are online and available for all.

By being transparent about their purchasing practices, FWF member brands are able to get specific feedback on necessary improvements. The system is also a boon for consumers who do not want to feel guilty about the clothing they buy, but have difficulty finding reliable information: it immediately becomes clear how their favourite FWF brand is performing.

No excuse
Not all clothing companies are assessed this way, and the influence of well-intentioned brands is often limited. However, even one concerned customer at a factory can have a significant positive impact on a range of issues like safety. And other customers will have fewer excuses to drag their heels.

Fair Wear Foundation continues to focus on improving working conditions, including building safety. Together with its local partners and its member brands FWF develops approaches that focus on how supply chain relations affect factory conditions. We believe that a broad application of the Brand Performance Check system offers an opportunity to improve the entire clothing industry.

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