The Politics of Safety Inspection Regimes: Institutional Responses to Rana Plaza

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
CLM.B.06 (Clement House)
Caroline Arnold, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY; Brooklyn College; Brooklyn College, New York, NY
Sara Jane McCaffrey, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA
Within a year of the Rana Plaza tragedy, garment retailers and brands, Bangladeshi clothing exporters, and the Government of Bangladesh had compiled a list of 3,500 garment manufacturers and created three different inspection regimes to audit safety in these factories: the Accord on Fire Building Safety in Bangladesh, promoted by the GAP and Walmart, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, and the National Action Plan and inspected by Bangladesh’s Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments. All three regimes committed to develop a set of common standards that they would apply while inspecting their Bangladeshi suppliers’ factories for structural integrity and fire safety. Despite these efforts to coordinate responses, several institutional differences among the regimes raised important questions about how each would operate. First, the Accord incorporates labor unions into the regime, while the Alliance includes factory-owners. Second, members of the Accord promised a five-year commitment to local suppliers, as opposed to two years as offered by the Alliance. This difference raised questions about the depth of commitment that the various brands and regimes had to their Bangladeshi suppliers in the long term.

Will these institutional differences influence the operation of the various inspection regimes? How will the differential involvement of labor unions and employers in the Accord and Alliance influence the operation of the two regimes? It is not surprising that industry-supported regimes have been criticized by labor activists for permitting companies to their own inspections of global suppliers and for weak standards and a lack of transparency (Hale and Wills 2007; O’Rourke 2006; Quan 2008). On the other hand, research on the relationship between monitoring regimes and involvement by the local producers of garments has suggested that the incorporation of input from local manufacturers is crucial to ensure that international standards are not perceived as protectionist measures, and therefore, to ensure greater compliance with set standards (DeNeve 2013; Locke et al. 2009; Locke 2013). This paper will compare the track records of the Accord and Alliance with respect to the monitoring of Bangladeshi factories to investigate these questions.