Since the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, when more than 1,100
factory workers were killed in a horrific building collapse, the
Bangladeshi garment industry has come under close scrutiny.
Tougher inspections have resulted in 35 factories closing, while
the recent introduction of the Modern Slavery Act means that
UK retailers are more aware than ever of the need for
greater supply chain oversight.
So why worry now?
In spite of this, poor conditions within Bangladeshi factories remain. As well as more than 3,500 registered garment factories, the country is believed to be home to a further 7,000 unregistered sites that are not subject to the same safety regulations.
These lax standards have been highlighted in a recent project by Mexican photographer Claudio Montesano Casillas, who decided to investigate Bangladesh’s sweatshops after visiting one on a tour of Old Dhaka. Conditions are often extremely poor, with child labour a feature of many unregistered factories. In some, children eat, sleep and shower on site because of the long hours they are forced to work.
According to UNICEF around 13% of all Bangladeshi children engage in child labour with many under the age of 14 (the country’s legal minimum age for employment). This equates to around 5.4 million children across the country, a particularly startling figure.
Bangladesh is in the spotlight again and it’s only a matter of time before international retailers are linked to these dangerously run, unregistered factories. Recent research has suggested that almost two thirds of UK companies believe modern slavery could occur within their supply network, so it’s crucial that fashion retailers take steps to improve their supply chain visibility.
The cost to retailers
The compensation fund that was set up following the Rana Plaza disaster has now reached $37 million, with British high-street giant Primark contributing around £8m after acknowledging that one of its suppliers was based in the building. Even more significant, however, is the human cost. While Primark was praised for quickly accepting responsibility, the retailer will long be associated with one of Bangladesh’s worst industrial accidents that killed more than 1,100 and injured yet more.
Retailers clearly need to be able to identify exactly where the components for their products are sourced from and what the conditions are like for workers at such factories. But with multiple first tier suppliers, lengthy and complicated supply chains, and operations across many countries, it can seem almost impossible to gain the clarity required to spot issues, much less to act on them.
So what can be done?
When carried out correctly, supply chain audits can be particularly valuable, giving businesses a real insight into the working practices of approved suppliers. However, this process doesn’t take into account complicated subcontracting relationships, where components may be provided by unknown suppliers or companies outside of the audited list.
To tackle modern slavery in retail supply chains, businesses need full visibility over their supply network. Segura’s software provides businesses with this high level of oversight, tracking when and where orders are both placed and fulfilled. Alerts and integrated management reporting can be used to notify the company if orders are being placed outside of the authorised supply network, so anomalies can be spotted and appropriately managed. Segura puts retailers back in control, allowing them to do business in confidence across the globe.