The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in April 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh and the fire at Ali Enterprises in Karachi, Pakistan in September 2012 are two particularly drastic examples of the inhumane working conditions endured in southern Asia by those producing goods for the European market. Payment below the living wage, excessive overtime hours on six to seven days per week, workplace abuse and discrimination, repression of trade unions and frequent workplace accidents and fire disasters: this is the sad reality faced by millions of workers in South and East Asia. European companies aggravate the already poor conditions by demanding low prices and tough deadlines. This pressure is passed along to the workers by the factory owners.
European companies do require their suppliers to comply with codes of practice and hire certification firms to monitor working conditions. What the Ali Enterprises case shows, however, is that this kind of auditing and certification is wholly unsuitable for effecting meaningful improvement in the lives of local workers. This situation makes it all the more important to establish what liability is borne by certification firms and by companies like German clothing discounter KiK.
A few months before the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, TÜV Rheinland audited the production facilities at textile producer Phantom Apparel Ltd as part of a social audit. ECCHR argues that TÜV Rheinland ignored professional auditing standards.
On the initiative of ECCHR the Hamburg Consumer Protection Agency filed an unfair competition complaint against the German discount retailer Lidl for claims made in the company's advertisements about fair working conditions in their supplier chain.
Italian audit company RINA certified a Ali Enterprises (Pakistan) building shortly before a fire broke out in the factory. The certificate failed to guarantee high standards of security. ECCHR is lending support to the legal proceedings underway in Pakistan, Italy and Germany.
Transnational corporations' responsibilities also extend to the working conditions in their subsidiary and supplier companies abroad. This position is supported by survivors and relatives of victims of the fatal fire at the Ali Enterprises textile factory in Karachi. Together with ECCHR, they filed a legal action for compensation against KiK.