Rana Plaza Case Study: Discussion Questions from FASH455

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#1 How shall we describe the relationship between the Alliance and the Accord? Are they collaborators or competitors? Do you think the Alliance and the Accord can join forces?

#2 How many inspectors are “enough” for Bangladesh? The case study mentions that the Alliance and the Accord are observing around 2,000 factories, but how about the other 3,000 in Bangladesh? And how about those unknown and “undocumented” factories, where the working conditions could be even worse?

#3 Do Western fashion brands genuinely care about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories? Or do they actually care about their own interests—profit, public image and reputation among consumers?

#4 What has made Western fashion brands stay in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza tragedy instead of moving their sourcing orders to other Asian countries in the area such as Cambodia and Vietnam?

#5 How transparent should be companies’ supply chain? Should fashion brands be required to disclose more supply chain information—such as where their products were made and who made them? What could be the difficulty of enforcing a more transparent apparel supply chain?

#6 In addition to more frequent inspections, what other measures can be taken to improve social responsibility practices in the garment industry?  

#7 Four years after the Rana Plaza, are you satisfied with the changes that have happened in Bangladesh? What major social responsibility problems in the Bangladeshi garment industry remain unsolved?

[Please feel free to join our online discussion. For the purpose of convenience, please mention the question # in your reply/comment.]

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

33 thoughts on “Rana Plaza Case Study: Discussion Questions from FASH455”

  1. #7 Three years after the Rana Plaza, are you satisfied with the changes that have happened in Bangladesh? What major social responsibility problems in the Bangladeshi garment industry remain unsolved?
    No, I am not satisfied with the changes that have happened in Bangladesh since the Rana Plaza. Yes, the Accord and the Alliance have been formed but they are two divided groups that have differing opinions on how to help solve this problem. I think these groups need to come together and form as one so that more change can happen. These differing opinions are only creating more of a divide and therefore not a lot is being done to create a safer environment, help to change child labor laws, and to protect workers. There are many social responsibility problems in the Bangladeshi garment that are unsolved – one being that standards for health codes are not good enough and that workers are not protected by any laws and are forced to work in unsafe conditions at all hours of the night. The demand is so high from fashion brands that factories are more concerned about getting the work done than worrying about the safety of their workers.

  2. My response to question #6 is that in addition to more frequent inspections, manufacturers should begin to offer higher wages or at least health care benefits to their employees. I also believe that it would be beneficial for the inspectors to monitor the factories until they are fully renovated to provide a safe working environment and to ensure that no children are being put to work. The inspectors should come from within the western manufacturer that is implementing production. That way the company would know how their products are truly being made. This all together would in turn improve social responsibility practices in the garment industry.

  3. #1 How shall we describe the relationship between the Alliance and the Accord? Are they collaborators or competitors? Do you think the Alliance and the Accord can join forces?

    The relationship between the Alliance and Accord may be tense at times because they have the same overarching goal, but go about their work differently. Regardless, the tension and slight “competition” might be beneficial because more results will stem from two entities striving for better. As I have found in my research, the Accord is referred to as a European initiative with members such as Benetton and Mango in which they sign a legally binding agreement. Whereas the Alliance, companies are more like members and their practices are not legally binding. Regardless of how the companies can be linked to the organization, they both promote safety and protection in factories and follow similar time frames for initiative execution. I don’t see the two organizations joining forces due to the way they acquire companies to join them, one is legally binding and one is not. I think it is a good thing for the companies to have different options on which group they want to join based on what works best for them. Every company structure is unique.

    1. great thoughts! However, if a factory makes products both for the EU and US brands, isn’t it has to meet the requirements for two different systems? Isn’t the competition between the Alliance and Accord for “standards” can be confusing and ineffective? Interested in your thought.

      1. I didn’t initially think about factories that produce for the EU and US brands…I can see how that could make things very confusing if they are part of two different systems. I think in that case, it sounds like its the factories that should be joining the Alliance or the Accord, not the brands, so they can set the standard and keep things consistent in their factories. If a brand prefers the Alliance or the Accord better, they should work with the factories that comply with their organization of choice.

  4. #3: I think overall, Western brands are more concerned about their earnings and reputation rather than the well-being of the workers and working conditions in Bangladesh. According to Nike, they never signed an agreement because they said “they can better use their resources in countries where they have a bigger footprint.” I don’t agree with this stance. Nike is a multi-million dollar company that should be making sure all 744 of their factories worldwide are safe for the workers they hire. Without these workers, they wouldn’t have products to make their profits off of. Some companies probably generally do care, but not all. Walt Disney pulled production out of Bangladesh right after the tragedy. Instead of helping and assisting the factories, they wanted to leave before they established a reputation. Most Western companies are only concerned about public image and its a shame. How can we change this?

  5. #3: I don’t think that Western fashion brands genuinely care about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories. In the case study reading, companies stated that they were unaware of what the factories were like and how/where their products were actually being made. I think this is kind of a bogus excuse for the Western fashion brands to use. If they actually cared about what was happening in their factories, they would’ve been more than aware about the wrongdoings of the factory managers and would’ve corrected it immediately. I think that, in reality, the Western brands really just care about their own interests and only focus to maintain the lowest labor costs and positive public image and reputation in the US.

  6. #3 Do Western fashion brands genuinely care about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories? Or do they actually care about their own interests—profit, public image and reputation among consumers?

    In my opinion, I don’t think western fashion brands care much about what is happening in Bangladesh garment factories unless their business is being affected negatively by it. For instance, the collapse of Rana Plaza, I believe that western brands were probably more concerned about their production being backtracked rather than the lives that were lost. More often than not businesses genuinely care about profit and reputation. As long as the money is coming in and the consumers are happy, the company is happy because they are benefiting most.

  7. Overall there is an obvious appeal to Western brands sourcing from countries such as Bangladesh, mostly because they are cheaper and more efficient than there counterparts. There are many downsides to this as well however. Yes, this gives opportunity to the country and its people that otherwise would not exist, but the immoral issues that come along with this success raise the question of what is too much of a cost? Certainly human life is not replace and the situation of Rana Plaza calls attention to this very dilemma. Some producers have chosen to take there business elsewhere to remain just, but is this in fact creating change? Many other Western brands have also kept there business, but is this fixing what is at hand overseas? Overtime, companies will slowly continue to support these countries again for the fact they can not be replicated in there cheap and fast nature. This yields more danger until the next crisis occurs. On the other hand, I somewhat believe that none of this truly plays into the situation abroad. The only real reform will come from within there own government. With increased regulations and better safety measures, more will be done than anything US manufacturers can do to take a stand.

  8. In response to question one, the Alliance and the Accord are sometimes in feuding camps, which can detract from the overall efforts these two groups have completed. At times it becomes a bit of a he-said, she-said competition. Instead of trying to support their efforts and commend each other on the work they’ve accomplished, they try to make it a competition to see who can help the Bangladesh garment industry the most. Since the Alliance is comprised mostly of American and Canadian brands (Walmart, Gap, and Target, to name a few) and the Accord is comprised mostly of European brands (H&M, Carrefour, and Mango), I do think that it would be beneficial if the two organizations combined efforts toward the common good.

  9. #3 Do Western fashion brands genuinely care about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories? Or do they actually care about their own interests—profit, public image and reputation among consumers?

    I do not think western fashion brands care too much about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factory. However, I think the tragedy will make them realize the labor safety problems, and I believe they will do some improvements in this area. Also, western companies may only focus on their interests before, but I think they will start to pay more attention on supply chain problems. Many companies already began to do something for labor safety issues. For example, the reading packet mentions VF only does business with supplier that follow internationally established standards worker safety and protection. Also, I believe the tragedy will remind all people work in the fashion industry and customers to think about labor safety issues, and customers will care about more about where their clothes come from.

  10. #6:
    I think that textile and apparel companies frequently inspecting the garment factories they do business with is a good start to improving their social responsibility practices. However, there are many other tactics and initiatives brands can take to ensure that every person involved in their supply chain is treated fairly and to industry standards. This includes creating trustful buyer/supplier relationships from the beginning of collaboration. Companies can also hire an employee to make sure proper ethics and standards of foreign partners are being upheld. Promising proper wages or healthcare benefits to suppliers is another tactic that would ensure happy and healthy workers.

  11. Question #4:
    Western fashion brands are sourcing garments from Bangladesh because no other country can compete with their cheap labor right now. Behind China, Bangladesh has become the world’s second-leading garment exporter. But, Bangladesh has the lowest labor costs in the world at only around less than $2 a day. Brands’ margins are skrinking and in order to meet their needs they are having to price their garments low and keep the costs even lower. Even though the dangers exist for the employees in Bangladesh, companies decide to keep manufacturing there so they can stay competitive with rivals. Additionally, it would be poor PR to show that the western fashion brands abandoned these workers and the factories in their time of need. Instead, by staying and helping with the positive efforts to fix the working conditions, it creates a better images for the companies.

  12. Question #3:
    Its sad, but I really dont think Western fashion brands care about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories. They knew about many of the dangers occuring in the factory and are partly to blame for the collapse, so I dont think just because the building actually collapsed any of their feelings changed. If the fashion brands cared about the factory workers, they wouldnt put such unrealistic time limits, goals and pressure on these factories for getting their products made in the correct qunatities and time. Becuase of the price pressure, these factories are forced to have their workers continue working despite the safety issues. I think the only reason the fashion brands took interest into positively changing the factories and practices was because they were trying to fix their brand image after being associated and blamed for the horrible tragedy that occured.

  13. #6 In addition to more frequent inspections, what other measures can be taken to improve social responsibility practices in the garment industry?

    To improve social responsibility, we also need to create better and longer standing relationships to ensure not only safety but quality of the products being produced as well. Textile sourcing has been a tricky business, and having faulty facilities created lots of issues, not only are the regulations to blame, but the inspectors and brand involvement needs to be better, and more intensive. Brand involvement will ensure that the brand knows what is going on, and ensure their consumer that they are striving for more ethical business practices and sourcing outcomes.

  14. #3 Do Western fashion brands genuinely care about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories? Or do they actually care about their own interests—profit, public image and reputation among consumers?

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that Western fashion brands genuinely care about what’s happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories. In the case study, when talking about inspections, it showed how little effort really was put into it with checklists and half of the safety precautions that should have been on there, weren’t even on the list. This makes me believe that Western fashion brands only began to care because the public cared. Whenever a tragedy happens and the public finds out is usually when companies begin to try to change for their consumers, so they won’t lose customers. As previous people said, it is very hard to believe that these companies were unaware of what was going on and it is sad to see how greedy people can be just to lower costs. I think that companies became more transparent to improve their public image and reputation for consumer so they wouldn’t lose profits and could definitely be doing more to ensure safety amongst these factory workers.

  15. #4 What has made Western fashion brands stay in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza tragedy instead of moving their sourcing orders to other Asian countries in the area such as Cambodia and Vietnam?

    I think that no matter how badly tragedies such as the Rana Plaza are, fashion brands are still looking out for themselves no matter what. As Bangladesh is a very underdeveloped country, this is where some of the lowest prices for outsourcing will likely be found. Their lack of regulation and low wages allow companies to source their products here for little to nothing, and even though there was a tragedy they still want to take advantage of these low prices.

    I also think that companies who chose to continue conducting business in Bangladesh do so in order to boost their reputation as someone who is “supporting” Bangladesh when they are going through a hard time. By making it known that they are still contributing to Bangladesh’s economy and helping this lesser developed country, they are using this as a tactic to appeal to their customer’s emotions; they also do this by donating to their relief funds and publicly supporting victim’s families.

  16. In regards to question 7, i have mixed feelings on the changes in Bangladesh. In light of all of the claims of unfair wages, abuse, child labor, and unsafe working environment after the Rana Plaza tragedy, Western fashion brands have begun a major push to improve safety at the factories in Bangladesh that they have done and still do business in. Two new inspection groups have been created in years since the tragedy. An Accord and Alliance have been formed to help with the efforts in improving workplace conditions. The Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety has more than 150 members and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety includes 26 different companies. Although these alliances have been formed, the often feud about how things should be done. With this being said, this is still a step in the right direction, but also needs improvement that in hopes will continue to help ensure the safety of both the workers and the buildings in Bangladesh. I think more enforcement needs to be put on these issues, especially in regards to child labor and wages.

  17. I think that most fashion brands care more about their profit, public image, and reputation, rather than the lives of these workers in the LDCs. Brands are more concerned about their image as words can travel very fast in today’s world with an excessive use of social media and smartphones. It’s not hard to boycott a brand by just starting a hashtag. While most brands claim to care about the environment and their workers, they didn’t really make any afford to stop the fast fashion trend that is killing the industry. They care about making profits and marketing to the “green” consumers. For example, we read in the Rana Plaza case study that when a brand decided to pull contracts from those sub-par suppliers, the suppliers didn’t really have a hard time fulfilling its capacity with orders from another brand. Pulling those contracts from the sub-par suppliers didn’t benefit any workers, they are still working long hours for those other brands.

  18. I don’t think it’s fair to generalize and label every worker for Western fashion brands into one category. Some workers for Western fashion brands might not care at all but others might genuinely care. I feel like the problem is that the workers for those fashion brands have their hands tied. Some companies only care about profit and reputation but hold back workers that want to make a change. So in conclusion, even though some workers care about the garment factories in Bangladesh, changes won’t always be implemented due to people in higher positions. Besides more frequent inspections, there can also be more laws implemented to ensure that factories are safer built in the first place. Furthermore, if fashion brands were able to choose factories with better conditions and working wages then it would help improve social responsibility practices.

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