More for show than safety: Certificates in the textile industry

Complaint on audit report by TÜV Rheinland on Rana Plaza factory

Bangladesh – Textile industry – Rana Plaza

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 July 2015 ECCHR and its partners submitted a joint complaint to the BSCI calling for the disclosure of TÜV Rheinland’s auditing contract for and its report on Rana Plaza. Following the complaint, representatives from the BSCI conceded that there was a need to clarify issues around the liability of and sanctions for auditing firms.


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.


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Q&A: BSCI complaint on TÜV Rheinland audit report.

The Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) is a comprehensive European platform by the Foreign Trade Association (FTA). The FTA deals with European and international trade and is based in Brussels. The corporations that are members of the BSCI have pledged themselves to a code of conduct that is meant to monitor and improve the safety and working conditions in production countries worldwide. The initiative invokes standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and other important international regulations, like the UN Declaration on Human Rights, as well as national legislation. More than 800 producers are currently members of the BSCI, including most large international textile companies, such as Metro, Migros, Otto, Coop and Kekso.

Companies that operate internationally and are deemed to meet the standards of the initiative receive BSCI certification. Companies use the certification to show that they are working to ensure fair working conditions and industrial safety at its producer and supplier firms in supplier countries.
BSCI stresses that the process does not involve any "official seal" but instead denotes that the company fulfills the BSCI standards. What legal consequences the certification is supposed to have is not clear. To be certified in accordance with BSCI standards a company must show the following:

  • Compliance with national laws regarding freedom of assembly and a right to collective bargaining
  • Prohibition of any form of discrimination
  • Adherence to minimum wages and living wages
  • Adherence to a maximum of 48 working hours per week and limits on overtime
  • Workplace health and safety
  • Prohibition of child labor
  • Prohibition of forced labor and disciplinary measures
  • Compliance with the minimum requirements for waste management, emissions and wastewater treatment
  • Compliance with the minimum requirements regarding the use of chemicals or other hazardous materials

The BSCI certification process begins with a self-evaluation questionnaire, which is filled out by the company to provide the auditors with an initial overall impression. There generally follows an audit of the subsidiary at its production facility. This is intended to determine whether the corporation is complying with the BSCI guidelines or whether there are deficits regarding the specifications set forth in the social management standard SA 8000. In the production facility, the audit begins with an entry briefing. Auditors then examine the facility, interview managers and other employees and inspect files.
At the end of the subsidiary audit an exit briefing takes place. Subsequently, the audit results and pictures of the facility are recorded in a written report and sent to BSCI. The results are then added to the BSCI database so that other BSCI members can see that the company has been successfully certified.

If it is discovered during a BSCI audit that the requirements or standards are not met, the companies are urged to implement the necessary corrections as quickly as possible. A further visit is required in order to check whether these measures are effectively implemented. The results of the follow-up report are documented in the BSCI database.

The audit's data is valid for three years in the BSCI database and can be extended by three more years through another audit.

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.

TÜV Rheinland was commissioned by a BSCI member to audit the production facilities of Phantom Apparel Ltd. in the Rana Plaza factory complex. ECCHR and its partner organizations are critical of TÜV Rheinland for failing to employ reasonable care when examining the safety and working standards and failing to sufficiently document or examine grave deficiencies:

  • Obvious flaws in construction and building safety as well as the lack of a valid building permit under Bangladeshi law were not challenged.
  • The lack of necessary documentation regarding security measures and building safety was not noticed or not challenged.
  • The lack of sufficient information for employees on effective complaint mechanisms and on employee rights, such as the right not to have to enter a clearly dilapidated building, was not recognized or challenged.
  • Child labor in the factories was not recognized or not sufficiently examined
  • No calls were made for an appropriate system for the documentation of working hours and calculation of employee social benefits.

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:

  • That BSCI certification include a mechanism allowing third parties, especially employees and their relatives, to bring claims against the inspection companies
  • Access to the audit reports by TÜV Süd and TÜV Rheinland regarding the Rana Plaza factories
  • The termination of contracts with inspection companies that violate the BSCI standards
  • A fundamental reform of the BSCI certification process

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Hard law/soft law

Soft law refers to (generally international) agreements that are not legally binding. Hard law denotes elements of the legal framework that are legally binding.

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Topics (2)


Social audits and certifications

Inspections, certifications, safety audits: what sounds helpful is often a sham. So-called safety and working condition audits are of little use to workers in global production and supply chains or residents of (agro)industrial areas. Instead of state inspections, for which there is rarely sufficient money or political will, private companies monitor labor, health and environmental standards.

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