The collapse of the Rana Plaza complex, which included several garment manufacturers, is yet another reminder of the working conditions that too often prevail in the apparel sector. The collapse resulted in over 1,100 deaths, and the toll continues to rise.
The global apparel industry is characterized by a vast network of subcontracting relationships. Major brands rarely own the factories in which their products are made; most factories process orders for a variety of firms, and most brands rely on an array of subcontractors. These arm’s length relationships make it difficult for even well-intentioned global brands to monitor conditions in their supply chains (see here for my argument the effects of subcontracting versus directly owned production on workers’ rights). Additionally, with competition in the industry based on speed and price – the subcontractor who can deliver cheaply and quickly enough to satisfy fickle Western consumer markets tends to win business – local factories have incentives to ignore domestic laws and corporate codes of conduct related to working hours and health and safety. Continue Reading →