Labour Research March 2016

Health & Safety Matters

Ethical audits are failing workers — and the planet

Ethical audits work for corporations but are failing workers and the planet, says a briefing by Sheffield University’s Political Economy Research Institute. 

Ethical audits and the supply chains of global corporations sets out that the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013 and the exposé of slavery and human trafficking in the Thai shrimp industry in 2014 have focused attention on global corporations’ supply chains. 

Yet despite increased “audits” and “inspections”, it reports, labour abuses, poor working conditions and environmental damage within global supply chains remain widespread. 

And in both the cases above, the supply chains had been certified and audited. 

The report points out that in Bangladesh, the Rana Plaza factory which made clothes for Matalan, Primark and Walmart among many others, “passed a compliance audit just months before it collapsed”.

The brief concludes that audits are ineffective tools for detecting, reporting or correcting environmental and labour problems, instead reinforcing existing business models and preserving the global production status quo. 

Moreover, the audit regime is reducing the role of states in regulation.

Meanwhile, in January 2016, the Clean Clothes Campaign and other signatories to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety reported that all but one of clothes retailer H&M’s strategic suppliers remain behind schedule in making repairs, and that over 50% of them still lack adequate fire exits.