Controls and certificates attesting to safety and working conditions in the textile industry are good for a corporation's image but are of little use to workers in the global production and supply chains. This was made all too clear by the collapse in April 2013 of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Dhaka (Bangladesh) which killed more than 1,130 people and left more than 2,500 injured. To date none of the companies involved have taken legal responsibility for the deaths and injuries. Instead producers, buyers and retailers have been relying on certificates of safety and labor standards to avoid any legal liability.
A few months before the catastrophe, the German certification company TÜV Rheinland audited the production facilities at textile producer Phantom Apparel Ltd – in the Rana Plaza complex – as part of a "social audit." ECCHR argues that TÜV Rheinland ignored professional auditing standards. The audit report failed to note grave human rights violations such as child labor, discrimination against women, the absence of trade unions and forced overtime. Even if TÜV was not tasked with the job of assessing the structural integrity of the factory, the question arises as to why the construction quality of the building is described in the report as being good.
TÜV Rheinland was commissioned to undertake the audit by a member of the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI). This corporate platform is based on the standards of the International Labour Organization and aims to monitor and improve safety and working conditions in production countries.
In May 2016, ECCHR together with those affected by the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory and the organizations FEMNET and medico international as well as the trade unions Garment Workers Unity Forum and Comrade Rubel Memorial Center from Bangladesh submitted an OECD complaint against TÜV Rheinland. The complaint was submitted to the OECD National Contact Point (NCP) at the Federal Ministry for Economics in Berlin.
The Final Statement of the NCP from June 2018 could pave the way for fundamental reforms. The NCP recommends a dialogue with audit companies, industry associations, producers, retailers and trade unions. This dialogue should address topics such as the transparency of audit reports and independent monitoring. ECCHR and its partners are disappointed that no settlement could be found with TÜV Rheinland in the Rana Plaza case but welcome the NCP's Final Statement which marked the end of the proceedings.
Q&A: BSCI complaint on TÜV Rheinland audit report.
TÜV Rheinland is a German inspection company that operates internationally. It certifies products, facilities and processes for compliance with voluntary and legal standards.
To gain the authorization to issue a certification, the inspection company must generally also be certified and accredited by the company or platform that sets out the standards for the inspection of safety and working conditions.
TÜV Rheinland is one of the certified inspection companies that carry out audits for BSCI. It describes its services and audit reports as "a passport for the world market."
TÜV Rheinland and other inspection companies receive the commission to conduct an audit either directly from the company to be inspected or from one of that company’s customers. This contractual proximity can cause conflicts of interest and threaten the quality of the certification since the certification company is commissioned and paid by the company under inspection.
The complainants were ECCHR, FEMNET, Clean Clothes Campaign, medico international and the Activist Anthropologist Collective in Bangladesh, which works with the survivors and relatives of the Rana Plaza catastrophe.
The complainants were calling on BSCI to live up to its responsibility to ensure the quality of its certification. This includes BSCI establishing a complaint mechanism for those affected and sanctioning the inspection company TÜV Rheinland for violating its duties. Furthermore they were demanding: