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D+C Vol.42.2015:2 25 lead the auditors to demand that production should stop until improvements were made. According to the audit, there was no child la- bour and no forced labour – although what is com- pulsory overtime if not forced labour? – and no dis- crimination in the factory. These findings are entirely unconvincing. The auditors also reported that workers enjoyed freedom of association. While it is true that most factories in Bangladesh have what is known as a “participation committee”, it is not normally an elected body; its members are ap- pointed by the management. It is a scandal in its own right that the audit re- ports are not published. They remain confidential – known only to factory owners, their clients and in- spectors. Workers and unions learn nothing. So even when an audit states “improvements required”, the factory owner can still muddle along. The Tazreen Fashion factory that burned down in November 2012 was also allegedly inspected before the deadly blaze. By August 2014, a total of 125 work- ers were known to have died in or as a result of the fire. Another 150 persons suffered significant to seri- ous injuries. The factory obviously lacked adequate emergency exits and fire escapes, but no remedial ac- tion was ever taken. Such shortcomings are apparent to non experts, so why did the auditors not identify them? Was the factory really inspected at all? The Tazreen factory belongs to the Tuba Group, which is owned by Delwar Hossain. On several occa- sions, this man has managed to buy his freedom on bail, most recently on 5 August 2014. He put pressure on the court by withholding three months’ wages from 1,600 female employees and refusing to pay them unless he was set free. The Tuba Group’s clients included German companies such as KiK and Lidl as well as international retailers like Walmart and C&A. It is totally bizarre that the national contact point of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) dismissed a complaint against KIK in the Tazreen context. It was filed in May 2013 by Uwe Kekeritz, a Green member of the Bundestag. The OECD argued that KIK had no direct responsibility for the fire because, at the time the fire occurred, it no longer had garments made there and had no significant influence on the safety pre- cautions taken. If KiK had inspected supplying manufacturers ahead to placing orders, as the company claims to do, the lack of emergency exits would surely have been noticed. The fire could have broken out at an earlier date, when KiK was still ordering garments there. The truth is that KiK was criminally negli- gent. The fact that the OECD contact point fails to acknowledge this highlights the problem of it being based at the Ministry for Economic Affairs. NGOs have criticised that for years. Governmental responsibility Client companies are not the only ones who have a responsibility. So does the government of Bangla- desh. Under both national labour law and the con- ventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), its obligation is to safeguard the human rights of clothing-industry employees and to enforce la- bour laws. The German government, moreover, also failed to do all it can to help protect human rights in Bangladesh. The Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Müller, recently launched a textile alliance. I myself was actively involved in its action plan, which aims to achieve tangible im- provements in social and environmental standards across the textile and clothing industry. But the bulk of the textile industry at present refuses to join. It would make sense to require them by law to live up to their duty of care concerning their supply chains. This approach would force every enterprise to live up to norms and not just those that volun- tarily join an alliance. Responsibility of consumers Consumer choices matter too. At Pri- mark, the discount chain, a T-shirt costs less than a cup of coffee or a bus ride into town these days. The low price reveals a lack of respect for the seamstresses’ work. Everyone must understand that insisting on bargain prices causes suffering elsewhere, for ex­ ample in Bangladesh. Textile prices have stagnated for years; cheap gar- ments are now the norm. Instead of buying disposa- ble fashion wear, we should buy fewer garments and be more selective. There are a small number of labels worth looking out for, such as Fairtrade for cotton for social standards and GOTS (Global Organic Content Standard) for environmental standards. Companies that are members of the Fair Wear Foundation are seeking to improve working conditions for garment workers. Links: Research Initiative for Social Equity Society (RISE): Gisela Burckhardt is a development expert, CEO of FEMNET and a long- standing campaigner for improvements in working conditions across the clothing industry. Her book “Todschick. Edle Labels, billige Mode – unmenschlich produziert” (only in German) is currently on bookstands, published by Heyne Verlag. [email protected] “If KIK had inspected supplying manufac- turers, the lack of emergency exits would surely have been noticed.”