More for show than safety: certificates in the textile industry

Complaint on audit report by TÜV Rheinland on Rana Plaza factory

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 on 24 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.

TÜV Rheinland audited production facilities in Rana Plaza

A few months before the catastrophe, 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.

Case Report: TÜV Rheinland audit for Rana Plaza facilities

RanaPlaza_TueVRheinland_OECD_CaseReport.pdf (371.5 KiB)

Complaint against TÜV Rheinland to OECD National Contact Point in Germany

On 2 May 2016 ECCHR together with those affected by the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka 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 the German certification company TÜV Rheinland. The complaint was submitted to the OECD National Contact Point at the Federal Ministry for Economics in Berlin.


The organizations argue that TÜV Rheinland, through its report, has contributed to violations of the human rights of workers in Rana Plaza and thus violated the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.


Those bringing the complaints call on TÜV Rheinland to work with the BSCI to bring about industry-wide and fundamental changes to factory monitoring. The aim must be to develop certifications that are supported by trade unions, that are published and that provide for compensation claims for those affected in the case of accidents arising from deficient audit reports.


The complainants wish to discuss these points with TÜV Rheinland in OECD mediation proceedings. Before that can happen, the Ministry for Economics must accept the complaint for further examination.

Complaint to the corporate platform BSCI

ECCHR, FEMNET, the Clean Clothes Campaign, medico international and Activist Anthropologist from Bangladesh submitted an earlier complaint to the BSCI on 7 July 2015. The organizations called on the BSCI to publish the request commissioning the audit as well as the reports from TÜV Rheinland and others on Rana Plaza and to fundamentally change the framework for audit reports. “The certifications don’t tell us much. Consumers need to know exactly what is being assessed,” said Miriam Saage Maaß, head of the Business and Human Rights program at ECCHR. “But above all: we need to be able to hold the certification companies and the bodies that commission them liable for their actions.”

First meeting between ECCHR and FTA/BSCI

On 19 November 2015 ECCHR met Foreign Trade Association Director General Christian Ewert and BSCI Managing Director Darrell Doren in Berlin. At the meeting the two representatives acknowledged that audit reports are of only limited use to those working in global production and supply chains and agreed with the demand that the workers should play a more important role in the BSCI framework. They also agreed that the question of responsibility needs to be clarified and that there was a need to discuss sanctions for cases where audits are substandard, including the potential exclusion of a company from the BSCI pool of accredited auditors.

ECCHR calls for disclosure of audit reports

ECCHR welcomes BSCI’s basic willingness to improve accountability in the future, but has again and expressly asked BSCI to respond in writing to the complaint on TÜV Rheinland’s audit report. BSCI must also publicly acknowledge that the report was drawn up negligently and that appropriate measures will be taken as a result. ECCHR stresses that the discussions in Berlin must be followed up with a written and public statement to those bringing the complaint.


BSCI has said it is prepared to discuss ECCHR’s proposal to secure third party beneficiary rights for workers in the audited factories. This would enable workers to take legal steps against the auditing company. BSCI also agreed to discuss the disclosure of the audit reports.


The short notice given meant that not all the organizations were able to attend the meeting. BSCI’s limited willingness to enter into discussions also meant that not all aspects of the complaint could be addressed. Activist Anthropologist criticized in particular that BSCI refused to debate the central allegations and did not foresee holding TÜV Rheinland to account. BSCI has still not taken any measures to assess the claims made in the complaint about TÜV Rheinland.


Documents on the case


  • Bangladesh
  • BSCI
  • FTA
  • Germany
  • global supply chains
  • Pakistan
  • textile industry
  • TÜV Rheinland