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New Report Puts Factory Fire Onus on Governments, Employers

"Fatal Fashion" study makes recommendations to avoid future tragedies.

GENEVA — Governments, suppliers, brands, retailers and audit firms need to overhaul existing workplace safety practices found to be flawed or inadequate to avert future industrial tragedies, said a joint report on last year’s fires at Ali Enterprises in Karachi, Pakistan, and Tazreen Fashions in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that combined to kill more than 400 people.

“The report demonstrates that companies and governments knew about the risks but failed to take sufficient measures to prevent the fires from happening or to address the needs of the victims afterward,” said Martje Theuws from the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations, which along with the Clean Clothes Campaign compiled the “Fatal Fashion” assessment report.

The study, a draft of which was shared with brands and retailers, the two governments and the social audit firms and certification bodies for comment, concluded the fire tragedies reflect systemic flaws by the governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh and their failure to “protect garment workers from the violation of their rights to safe workplaces.”

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Brands that responded to the draft include C&A, Diesel, Wal-Mart, KIK, Li & Fung, Sears, Disney and Karl Rieker.

The findings also reflect a “blind faith” and reliance by international brands “on a failed auditing model where even the absence of a fire exit remains unaddressed,” the report said.

To avert future industrial calamities, the study recommends governments in garment producing nations such as Bangladesh and Pakistan ensure an effective labor inspectorate that is transparent and equipped with the necessary resources to conduct regular inspections and has sufficient capacity.

Similarly, it suggests buyers and retailers should, at a minimum, “install safety programs and disclose all audit reports of factories where safety incidents have taken place and/or where noncompliances with health and safety standards have been documented.”

It also maintains that audit firms and certification bodies “should notify the buyer, the government, relevant business associations and worker representatives when factory audits identify health and safety hazards, and publicly disclose the results of such audits.”

With regard to factory owners, the report states that “employers carry the primary responsibility” to ensure safe working conditions for their employees and need to take responsibility for ensuring the safety of their employees.