Questions over German inspector's certification for Rana Plaza factory

A German-based workplace safety and products quality certification firm had failed to address the flawed safety measures and construction of Rana Plaza before the building collapse in Savar took the lives of 1,138 workers more than two years ago.

A report by Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), a global rights group, said the German technical inspection company -- TÜV Rheinland -- had audited the production facilities of Phantom Apparel Ltd, one of the five ill-fated garment factories housed in Rana Plaza, just a few months before the catastrophe in April 2013.

The third party social and environmental audit reports are prerequisites to the production cycle of garment items to make sure that the items are manufactured according to rules, as apparel makers sometimes fail to do so.

“The German certification company failed to address building safety and construction flaws; a number of other problems were not raised in its report,” the CCC said in a statement last week.

TÜV Rheinland was appointed as an auditor by a member of the Business Social Compliance Initiative or BSCI that monitors safety and working conditions in production.

The European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), FEMNET and the CCC, Medico International and the Activist Anthropologist Collective from Bangladesh submitted a joint complaint to the BSCI.

These organisations are calling on BSCI to disclose the audit contract as well as the reports on Rana Plaza by TÜV Rheinland and others and to overhaul the approach of inspection reports.

“The certificates don't tell us much. Consumers need to know exactly what is monitored,” says Miriam Saage-Maaß, head of Business and Human Rights programme at ECCHR, according to the CCC statement.

“But above all, we need to be able to hold the certification companies and the bodies that commission them liable for their actions.”

“When disasters happen in the textiles industry, producers, buyers and traders like to hide behind certificates of safety and working standards to dodge responsibility,” said Gisela Burkhardt, chairperson of FEMNET, a member of CCC.

TÜV Rheinland did not adequately inspect building safety documentation or the workers' records at Phantom Apparel, which was shown by the investigative reports on the building collapse as well as by victim statements, the CCC said.

“If the inspections are inadequate, then the certificates are not worth the paper they're written on,” says Thomas Seibert, South Asia coordinator for Medico International.

“In order to restore workers' faith in the social auditing mechanism, a fundamental change in the philosophy and agenda of BSCI is necessary. Today workers consider such inspection processes a meaningless ritual,” says Saydia Gulrukh from the Activist Anthropologist Collective.