WASHINGTON — Safety standards in the global apparel industry are under the microscope once again.
In the wake of the tragic fire in the Asian nation that killed nearly 300 workers at a garment factory and intensified scrutiny over nonprofit monitoring and factory certification groups, one U.S.-based certification group plans to roll out a fire safety training program in Pakistan.
The fire ripped through Ali Enterprises Inc., a jeans manufacturer based in Karachi, Pakistan, last week, leaving 289 garment workers dead. The incident sent shock waves throughout the entire global apparel industry and raised questions about the safety of garment workers stitching clothing for European and U.S. brands in Pakistan and around the world. It also led to the resignation of the Sindh Minister for Industry, the arrest of the factory owners for attempted murder and brought more attention to the monitoring and certification companies used by hundreds of U.S. and European retailers and brands. RELATED STORY: Controversy Goes on Over Pakistan Fire >>
WWD has learned that the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production organization, which has certified more than 10,000 factories in 72 countries, plans to launch a fire safety training program in Pakistan, building on programs it has run in Bangladesh, according to WRAP chairman Charles Masten. He said WRAP hopes to work with the Pakistani government and local trade groups to implement a training program in the near term.
WRAP had certified Ali Enterprises in 2007, 2009 and 2010, but the company’s certification expired at the end of 2011 and was not renewed this year. Masten, who noted that no violations were found in audits of Ali Enterprises, said the “common denominator” in fire safety compliance with core international standards for all brands, retailers, auditors and certification companies is that entrances and exits are not locked in foreign factories. Workers who survived the Karachi fire said employees could not easily escape the building because the doors were locked.
“I can feel comfortable that when that auditor went into the factory on that day and completed an audit, all those entrances and exits were not locked,” he said.
But Masten acknowledged that all bets are off when the auditors leave a factory.
“An audit is a snapshot when you go in there,” Masten said. “All hell can break loose as soon as the auditors leave. That is the reason that with all WRAP agreements up front, we let them know we will come back unannounced at any time we want to see if they are adhering to our principles. We don’t even tolerate doors being obstructed with big shipments that prevent workers from getting in and out of the factory.”
Ali Enterprises did receive certification in August from an independent auditor, RINA Services, showing it complied with core international labor standards, including health and safety requirements. The Italian auditing company has since suspended all auditing activity in Pakistan and launched an internal investigation. RINA was accredited and supervised by Social Accountability Accreditation Services, an independent company based in New York, which is undertaking its own internal investigation.
Eileen Kohl Kaufman, executive director of Social Accountability International, the company that established the separate SAAS accreditation company, said: “We are rethinking everything. This is a terrible tragedy. It is horrible. We hope our investigation, SAAS’s investigation, RINA’s investigation and the investigations by many NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], trade unions and the government of Pakistan will result in an understanding of what exactly happened so that everybody connected in any way can try to prevent future occurrences.”
SAI officials said in a statement on its Web site that social audits based on certifications are “imperfect at best.
“It is not unusual for social auditors to experience situations where true information about conditions is hard to uncover or intentionally falsified,” the statement said. “False documentation and pressure on workers not to tell the truth are regrettably common in some areas, and however skilled auditors may be in recognizing this, problems still exist.”
Kaufman said the company has been involved in fire safety training programs in Bangladesh and is open to collaborating on new initiatives in Pakistan.
Details about which brands Ali Enterprises was producing began to emerge this week. German apparel and nonfood discounter KiK, which operates 2,600 doors in Germany and 3,200 doors in Europe, confirmed Ali Enterprises produced jeans for the chain. KiK noted it requires all contractors to conform to elementary labor laws and safety standards, which are examined by external, independent and accredited agencies.
KiK said it conducted three audits of Ali Enterprises through UL Responsible Sourcing Inc. After failing to meet fire safety requirements in the first audit in 2007, the factory took necessary actions, as confirmed by a report from Dec. 30, 2011. KiK said it is investigating the tragic event and has been provided with daily updates by its local purchasing agency. The retailer will also be meeting with UL Responsible Sourcing this week. KiK, which is among Germany’s 10 largest retailers, has previously come under scrutiny regarding the labor standards of its contractors in Asia. In reaction to the Karachi fire, KiK said it began setting up a relief fund last week.
In related news, German retailer Tchibo said it has reached an agreement with trade unions and social standards advocacy groups such as the Clean Clothes Campaign to implement a fire and building safety program in Bangladesh apparel factories. Tchibo is the second company to commit to the program, which was first agreed to by PVH Corp. in March.
“We take the risks very seriously and see the need to join forces at a multistakeholder level in order to achieve a sector-wide change in Bangladesh,” the company said Thursday.
Since 2006, more than 600 garment workers have died in Bangladesh due to unsafe buildings.
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye