Compliance mechanisms in global clothing supply chains

Insights from the Bangladesh garment industry

Researcher

Project background and aims

This research examines ethical procurement in the global supply chain for cheap clothing, focusing on the ready-made garment factories of Bangladesh, and in particular on their relationships with retailing agencies in Australia. This study extends our understanding by focusing on the Australian perspective. It focuses on the process of enactment, and implications, of the Fire and Safety Accord (hereafter, “the Accord”) enacted by global retailers for the garment factories of Bangladesh as compliance measures to ensure its sustainable development.

The Accord has been enacted as a five year undertaking from 2013-2018 by 200 global brands, including Kmart Australia, Target Australia, Cotton-On, and Woolworths Australia. In fact it was an initiative of the global brands, and endorsed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and donor agencies in alliance with the Bangladesh government after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh in April 2013. This accident caused the deaths of 1133 workers, mostly women, employed in five garment factories located in that building. The apparel industry in Bangladesh, widely referred to as a ready-made garment (RMG) sector, is regarded as the lifeline of the country’s economy, employing approximately 4 million people, 80% of them women. Most of the products of this industry are exported to markets in the USA, the European Union and Australia. The Rana Plaza disaster drew allegations against the procurement process of top retailing agencies and exploitative working conditions pursued by the suppliers, and raised criticisms against the state for its flexible approach towards the issues of workers’ rights and labour codes.

Considering these contextual conditions this proposed research follows a transnational research design, based on a qualitative, case study approach. It focuses on the transnational governance aspects of the Accord, since involvement of multiple stakeholders is evident in the formation and enactment of the Accord in the case of Bangladesh RMG industry. The study aims to:

  • explore conditions of the enactment of compliance measures, and thereby how ethicality in the process of procurement is being addressed
  • examine whether transparency in the process of procurement is ensured because of the implementation of compliance
  • create a scope of communications between global and local actors
  • gather views regarding how stakeholders would like to see changes in the sector and within the process of procurement in future

Methodology

This study is located in the domain of global supply chain analysis and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Implementing CSR in the context of developing countries are organised by multinational corporations and multilateral agencies, while nation-states are expected to facilitate a conducive environment for their implementation. Within such context this research examines, first, whether implementation of compliance mechanisms is collectively decided – that is, whether or not the process of enactment includes representatives of garment factory owners, leaders of trades union and workers, and government officials of the Ministry of Labour and Employment; second, what changes are being made because of the initiation of this compliance measure, and how retailers are being assured about such changes – that is, what their monitoring mechanisms are for compliance measures enacted at the factory level. Finally, it explores the plan of action by retailers, factory owners, Labour Ministry officials, and trade union leaders regarding enactment and continuation of compliance mechanisms after 2018.

This research is a qualitative study located in an interpretivist paradigm with a reflexive methodology. The study focuses on the industry and its local–global linkage. I was involved as a Media Coordinator with the Campaign Group of the Make Trade Fair Campaign organised by Oxfam in 2003. This experience helped me to establish a network with local level NGOs and trade union leaders involved with this industry. Participants or the key stakeholders of this study are organised into the following categories: sustainability managers of Australian retail agencies, owners and managers of garment factories, trade union leaders, government officials involved with the implementation of the Accord and factory inspectors, representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO), workers – particularly women workers, and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) – as representative of local level organisations working on the issues of workers’ rights.

Findings

The significance of this study lies in (i) identifying ethicality in the procurement process – that is, locating the situated ethical practices; (ii) unpacking transparency and thereby accountability within the supply chain by focusing on maintenance of labour standard; and in (iii) presenting and communicating voices of local level stakeholders and thus creating a space of exchange of dialogues among the stakeholders.

Output