Rana Plaza Case Study: Discussion Questions from FASH455

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#1 How shall we describe the relationship between the Alliance and the Accord? Are they collaborators or competitors? Do you think the Alliance and the Accord can join forces?

#2 How many inspectors are “enough” for Bangladesh? The case study mentions that the Alliance and the Accord are observing around 2,000 factories, but how about the other 3,000 in Bangladesh? And how about those unknown and “undocumented” factories, where the working conditions could be even worse?

#3 Do Western fashion brands genuinely care about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories? Or do they actually care about their own interests—profit, public image and reputation among consumers?

#4 What has made Western fashion brands stay in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza tragedy instead of moving their sourcing orders to other Asian countries in the area such as Cambodia and Vietnam?

#5 How transparent should be companies’ supply chain? Should fashion brands be required to disclose more supply chain information—such as where their products were made and who made them? What could be the difficulty of enforcing a more transparent apparel supply chain?

#6 In addition to more frequent inspections, what other measures can be taken to improve social responsibility practices in the garment industry?  

#7 Three years after the Rana Plaza, are you satisfied with the changes that have happened in Bangladesh? What major social responsibility problems in the Bangladeshi garment industry remain unsolved?

[Please feel free to join our online discussion. For the purpose of convenience, please mention the question # in your reply/comment.]

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Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

34 thoughts on “Rana Plaza Case Study: Discussion Questions from FASH455”

  1. In regards to question #4, Western fashion companies want to stay in Bangladesh for now due to their high number of factories and workers, their export percentage of apparel, and low costs. Low labor wages means lower price of a garment. Producing clothing in Bangladesh gives companies like Walmart a bigger advantage. They also fulfill mass production orders with a good lead time and with quality.

      1. Question # 4, other than routine inspection by western buyers, what’s the next steps, remediation and value added projects those buyers have taken to address the issues identified from the inspections? We may get a sense of these efforts which if we can find from buyers’ recent public annual CSR reports. If they did something good, I believe they make it public, if we find nothing, in doubt they do really care bout what’s happening there.

  2. My response to question #6 is that in addition to more frequent inspections, manufacturers should begin to offer higher wages or at least health care benefits to their employees. I also believe that it would be beneficial for the inspectors to monitor the factories until they are fully renovated to provide a safe working environment and to ensure that no children are being put to work. The inspectors should come from within the western manufacturer that is implementing production. That way the company would know how their products are truly being made. This all together would in turn improve social responsibility practices in the garment industry.

  3. To answer question #3 I believe that western fashion brands do care what is happening in Bangladesh however i think they are very selfish about it. Meaning that western fashion brands probably care about how the tragedies are going to look on their part and if it will hurt their business. We all are human so i believe that there is symbathy for Bangladesh however they have no empathy for Bangladesh.

  4. Regarding #4 (What has made Western fashion brands stay in Bangladesh…?), I would consider 2 reasons: Firstly, Vietnam and Cambodia are way more expensive than Bangladesh will probably ever be. Just last week, the Cambodian Labour Ministry, unions and factories agreed on a new monthly wage of $153, up from some $110 or so back in 2013. This is an incredibly positive outcome for the Cambodian garment workers, however it is a cost 2-4x higher than what factories pay their Bangladeshi counterparts. At the same time, Cambodia is not the most productive country – Thailand and Vietnam are better! At least in the case of Cambodia, the benefit of moving there is questionable…
    Secondly, I really don’t think that international brands have put 100% of their hearts in better and fairer production. At the end of the day, it is still about writing black or red numbers. Maybe those brands pretend to care in order to “fool” their customers. No need for them to worry as long as the supply chains remain barred from the public?
    Bangladesh being a very poor country, it is simply easier for international companies to stay there rather than moving to Cambodia or Vietnam, where wages are higher and international participation/ attention might be higher as well.

  5. As for #5 (How transparent should be companies’ supply chain?), I think it should be 100% transparent! ….In which countries was this shirt produced? In which factory as it produced?…. <– Those are questions that many consumers from the 21st century care about.
    Ideally, factories would also get an individual "bar code" or QR code, which consumers could scan with their mobile phones to find out more about the factory.
    I think having this developed would be a great step as it would 1. force companies such as H&M, Gap, etc to be(come) ethical/ honest (and more responsible in who they choose for production) and also 2. force factories to improve their image through better wages, better safety, better hygiene, more worker rights, etc.
    I don't see any difficulty in having a more transparent apparel supply chain IF international clothing stores and the factories finally decide to play an open, fair game with consumers. If, for example, Walmart decides to take 100% responsibility for the factories that produce its apparel, and also takes legal actions against those factories that sub-contract Walmart's purchase orders, then where is the problem?
    Secondly, factories would really need to step up their game and become globally responsible for the way they treat their human resources. However, they can only do that once their international clients decide to decrease their pressure on the factories and increase their wages. This would lastly have an impact on consumers, but if we want to live in a better world, we need to stop being selfish.

    1. great comments! One follow-up comment: according to a study conducted by the New York University last year, more than half of factories in Bangladesh are small and medium-sized (SME) indirect sourcing factories, meaning their workers produce for Western fashion brands through other, larger factories. These SME factories basically operate in the shadows. How to address this problem? And Bangladesh is not the only country which is found to have the problem of subcontracting. Also, if retailers are required to disclose the names of their factories, could business secret be a concern? Isn’t it reasonable that companies want to keep some business intelligence unknown to their competitors. What do you think?

      1. Regarding the SME factories that are producing for larger factories: This is a very crucial point, and I think that the larger factories need to be monitored and observed more properly by Better Work and other programs.
        There must be a stricter regulation imposed BY brands ON the large factories, there need to be specific people who visit the larger factories time to time and check what they are doing. It might take time and money, however as soon as western brands have control over the larger factories, there probably won’t be another Rana Plaza disaster, or at least it is less likely.

        In terms of disclosing names of the factories, I think this could lead to only good things in the long run. Brands would obviously only want to disclose names of factories that have a good reputation, which puts pressure on those factories who are neglecting human rights, etc.
        Might be painful in the beginning as everyone will know where you are producing, but it eventually will become a healthy competition a la “Who has the better source of production?” This could turn into an interesting game between major brands such as H&M, Levis, Gap, …..

  6. Response to question #1:
    I think the Alliance and the Accord are seen as competitors. They case study mentioned how the Alliance and the Accord will try to one-up each other in their efforts for creating a better Bangladesh. I think this competition motivates them to take more aggressive actions and thoroughly enforce the actions put in place. For this reason, if they were to collaborate and join forces, I do not think they will be as beneficial in creating and ensuring safety standards.

    1. good point. May I ask one follow-up question: why does the Alliance and the Accord want to “compete” with each other? what could be the potential gains from the “competition”?

      1. I think they want to compete with each other to show that their nation can provide better safety standards which would give that nation more recognition than the other. They enjoy the competition and motivate each other because of it. Without it, aggressive actions would not be considered. However as I reread the case and comment, I’m starting to question the idea of the competing Alliance and Accord: how much has actually been done to effectively secure working conditions and the rights of workers? Are they distracted by the competition more so than the actual issue at hand?

  7. In regards to question #3, I think Western fashion brands only care about what’s happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories when something bad such as the Rana Plaza tragedy occur. I think tragedies such as this cause the world to look at Western fashion brands and therefore Western brands feel pressured to act like they care. Western brands only show that they care in order to protect their public image and reputation among customers. Prior to any such tragedies happening, Western fashion brands only cared about profit margins. They charged Bangladeshi factories the bare minimum in order to get the widest profit margins. They did not care that these factories were unsafe and forcing their workers to work an insane amount of hours. Western fashion brands only cared about getting their goods made in the cheapest manner possible. And I don’t think they would have changed anything if the Rana Plaza tragedy never happened. Thus I don’t think the Western fashion brands really are dedicated to improving Bangladeshi garment factories. I think it is just a show. Additionally I wonder whether or not organizations such as Alliance and Accord will really be able to change anything in Bangladesh without 100% support and backing of Western fashion brands.

    1. Great thinking and great point about the Alliance & the Accord! Days ago, the Alliance released its third annual report. The Alliance says it is working on a plan to hand over responsibility for its affiliated garment factories to the country’s government in 2018. This is an interesting move…

  8. #7 Three years after the Rana Plaza, are you satisfied with the changes that have happened in Bangladesh? What major social responsibility problems in the Bangladeshi garment industry remain unsolved?
    No, I am not satisfied with the changes that have happened in Bangladesh since the Rana Plaza. Yes, the Accord and the Alliance have been formed but they are two divided groups that have differing opinions on how to help solve this problem. I think these groups need to come together and form as one so that more change can happen. These differing opinions are only creating more of a divide and therefore not a lot is being done to create a safer environment, help to change child labor laws, and to protect workers. There are many social responsibility problems in the Bangladeshi garment that are unsolved – one being that standards for health codes are not good enough and that workers are not protected by any laws and are forced to work in unsafe conditions at all hours of the night. The demand is so high from fashion brands that factories are more concerned about getting the work done than worrying about the safety of their workers.

  9. In response to number three, I believe U.S. apparel companies only care what affects their image to the consumer. Before this tragedy, retail brands were taking little to no action to help these unsafe factories. After the public had knowledge about this tragedy, retail brands started to step up and take some action, making them look better in the public eye. I believe retail brands number one priority is profit, so they do not care much about Bangladesh, but image also affects profit so they must try to look good in the public eye by helping in some way.

  10. To answer question #3, like every business, the company wants what the consumer is willing to pay for. It’s the basic law of supply and demand. It’s not necessarily the companies and factories not caring about what is happening, but it is about how consumer behavior has not changed either. In the world of fast fashion, the biggest issue is blind shopping. No one knows where their clothes are coming from. Without watching the news and reading extensive newspaper articles on the collapsing garment factories, how is a consumer supposed to know where their $5 t-shirt came from? Unfortunately, an incident like Rana Plaza was published enough that consumers were able to see what was happening. However, it is the consumer that remains selfish. As a positive person, I would like to think that every person would want to make the changes for a fancier and safer machine and building, but it just costs too much money. Without the people willing to buy and help factories invest in new infrastructure, the money is impossible to get and the changes are impossible to be implemented. The focus should be on creating a new trend of investing in your wardrobe rather than a trend of high fashion turnover.

  11. The Rana Plaza is something I was not aware of before taking FASH455 but I now find it a very interesting and important topic. I believe that Western companies are still sourcing from Bangladesh because of the extremely low labor costs which allows for a low price in clothing that they are purchasing. Even though these companies are aware of the tragedy and the continued unfair working conditions they struggle to source from somewhere else because it is working well for them. In reality I believe that the Western companies are quite selfish. They choose to turn a blind eye even though they are aware of what is going on. Americans would be surprised to find out which companies still source from Bangladesh. Many people are not aware of where their clothing is coming from and I feel that if it was made more known then people would stop buying from places that source from countries with terrible conditions.

  12. In regards to question 6, I think that the Bangladesh government would need to get more involved. They would need to care about the safety of their workers and the factory working conditions. Without the involvement of the government, it is difficult for Western countries and brands to keep a close eye on the factories. The only other option would be for Western brands to run the factories, and have people from their companies in Bangladesh at all times. This may take away from the factories though – since one point of them is to lift them out of such a high unemployment rate.

  13. #3 Do Western fashion brands genuinely care about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories? Or do they actually care about their own interests—profit, public image and reputation among consumers?

    I do not think Western fashion brands care about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories. Those companies really focused on their profits, public image, and reputation. Consumers only care about how much the products are, and they do not care about how those products are made. Thus, it is a very key reason that fashion brands companies do not have motivation to care about the garment factories because if they care about it, they would not get more profits or even less profits due to costs of caring. Additionally, except the organizations, like the Alliance and the Accord, are there any other ways to motivate fashion brands companies really care about the factories?

    1. you raised a great question at the end. I don’t think there is an easy answer here, but it requires ongoing efforts of all parties involved. At least we have two organizations, the Alliance and the Accord are making efforts to gradually improve the CSR practices in Bangladesh.

  14. #4 What has made Western fashion brands stay in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza tragedy instead of moving their sourcing orders to other Asian countries in the area such as Cambodia and Vietnam?
    #6 In addition to more frequent inspections, what other measures can be taken to improve social responsibility practices in the garment industry?

    Western apparel sellers have reexamined their worldwide search for cheap labor, many of which have pulled their companies out of Bangladesh. Nevertheless, 170 plus companies have chosen to stay in Bangladesh and have taken it upon themselves to help better Bangladesh. For instance, WalMart chose to stay and signed five year contracts to remain in Bangladesh factories and signed additional contracts pledging to increase safety standards and help fund improvements for Bangladesh factories. With that being said, it has been confirmed that garment factory inspections have been strengthened significantly, and inspectors have become more serious within their inspections.

    Since the Rana Plaza tragedy, there has been an increase in the rigor and frequency of inspections and companies have been motivated help the workers. Global companies have come together into two separate groups to perform proper inspections in the factories. I think the most effective measure, is that groups that have inspections done are releasing their findings to the public and becoming more transparent with consumer. Sharing the information to the public proves that there is a serious effort being made, consumers will have a better understanding of how their products are made and that there is a clear understanding of what needs to be fixed.

    Other than safety inspections and audits I think companies should be more willing to assist the workers on a more personal level and give back to the people of Bangladesh.
    The Rana Plaza disaster caused the world to stop and reconsider the factories and the conditions our beloved clothes are made in. However, aside from fixing the buildings, how can we help the people we have hurt over our greed and materialistic desires? Money may help, but is there anything we can do on a more intimate and humane level?

  15. The Rana Plaza Case Study was one that shared great insight into important social responsibility practices within the garment industry. I chose to look at question #6 : In addition to more frequent inspections, what other measures can be taken to improve social responsibility practices in the garment industry?
    I think that more inspections in these factors is a great measure to take to prevent unfair and unstable working conditions. Although I still think that this gives time for factory managers to subcontract and to hid certain aspects of their working policies. In order to further improve conditions, I believe that factory inspections should not be announced. I also believe that there should be federal laws set in place, laws laid out in contracts with manufactures that certain acts are not tolerable and could be punished. I also believe that public knowledge plays an important role in social movements. If the public were to become aware of just where and how the products they are purchasing are being made I believe many consumers would want to get involved and take a stand against unjust working conditions.

  16. I’d like to start by saying that the topic of Rana Plaza, including out case study, has been one of my favorite topics to learn about in this course. It really interested me how severe the factory situations are and how necessary it is for something to be done about it.
    To answer question #3, I believe that Western fashion brands care a lot more their reputation with consumers than what is really happening in Bangladesh garment factories. They know that majority of their consumers aren’t researching where their product is coming from and if its from an ethical place. Consumers are more concerned about the brand name that they’re wearing and often disregard what it took to make the garment.

  17. #7 Three years after the Rana Plaza, are you satisfied with the changes that have happened in Bangladesh? What major social responsibility problems in the Bangladeshi garment industry remain unsolved?
    Since the Rana Plaza tragedy measures have been taken to try and improve the situation in Bangladesh. One measure taken is that garment factory inspections have been much improved; they are more frequent and go into much greater depth. Also factories are inspected by more parties, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety are two new inspection bodies used to ensure safety in factories. This is a positive step that should help to keep both the workers and the buildings safe in Bangladesh. A second measure taken is that more Labor Unions have been established for workers where they were previously not allowed. Law now states that workers can create a union is 30 percent of the work force wants to do so. In theory this is a positive idea, however, there continue to be cases of anti-union activity, therefore, either more workers need to step up and activate unions or stricter laws need to be implemented in order to stop anti-union activity among factories. Overall I am not completely satisfied, I think that although there have been positive steps made, many more still need to come in order for Bangladesh to be a completely safe environment.

  18. Regarding question #3 I think that the Western fashion brands do care about issues such as what happened/is happening in Bangladesh but I think they only care to an extent and could make it more of a priority what happens to the people working down there. I think that sometimes it is easy for the industry here in America to forget that the people being hurt on the job or being paid so little or working in real terrible conditions are just that; PEOPLE. The Western fashion brands should focus more on that and less on profits and cutting costs. Also, tragedies such as this one do not look good to the Western Brands associated with those factories so they need to care if they want their business to be respected and continue to be lucrative.

    1. Your comment reminds me of a point made by our guest speaker last Friday. She said it is not that retailers/fashion brands don’t care about social responsibility, just sometimes they couldn’t effectively control their supply chain. In addition to raising awareness of the issue, we do need to explore better techniques, inspection mechanisms and regulations to improve the CSR practices

  19. To respond to the question #4, after Rana Plaza happened, more than 100 garment companies have signed a five-year and legally binding Bangladesh security agreement, including Esprit Holdings and Zara’s parent company Inditex. According to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the companies involved promise to pay for the necessary refurbishment and retrofitting of the factories. The companies also said they would not have a commission with a manufacturer that did not meet safety standards. Uniqlo said the company also had a workshop monitor program in order to ensure that the factory provides reasonable and appropriate working conditions for employees including wages.

  20. The Rana Plaza incident brought to the surface many regulation changes that needed to be modified and strengthened to ensure safer working environments for the factory workers. Since the incident many measures have been taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Inspections have become more though-rough and more frequent with random inspections. Western unions don’t seem to care about the developing countries like Bangladesh as much as other countries. They are more focused on consumer interest and mass production.

  21. In regards to question number 3, I think that Western fashion brands have priorities that are a mix of both genuine care for the factories and selfish concern for image. Any business owner understands that a company is responsible for anything that happens in the process of making the product, whether they want to admit it or not. The name of their brand is associated with all functioning parts of the process, including outsourcing manufacturing. I believe Western fashion brands do care about what is happening in the Bangladesh garment factories because of this. There is an obligation to take care of the people working for you. I think part of the company wants to improve factory conditions because it wants to have good morals and part of the company is paying the necessary costs for change because it will protect their image. The amount of money it costed the Western fashion brands to help fix the situation in Bangladesh was not cheap, but necessary in the eyes of business. Companies have good social responsibility and need to maintain that image or else consumers will no longer want to shop at those stores.

  22. In regard to question number three I think it is very clear that fashion companies only have their best interest in mind. Rana Plaza shows that because they only waited for a major disaster to happen before taking action, and I think they only ended up taking action because of the major affects that a negative reputation, like one the companies involved in Rana Plaza, received. When a major disaster like that occurs, consumers lose interest in the company and that is the reason why the company ends up fixing some of their working conditions, not for the safety of the workers but because of profit. Regulations need to be enforced especially in countries like Bangladesh and India because companies only care about the bottom line.

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