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.