On the same day that news of a separate factory fire near Bangladesh claimed the lives of eight people and the official death toll from last month's Rana Plaza factory disaster near Dhaka surpassed 900 victims, the global clothing giant Benetton confirmed, despite earlier denials, that the factory was part of its supply chain.
Though the global outrage over the working conditions and treatment of garment workers has risen alongside the bloodshed in Dhaka, labor rights groups continue to say that the tweaks to improve the industry offered by the manufacturers and retailers will do little to improve the lives of the workers.
A spokesman at the army control room coordinating the recovery operation at Rana on Thursday told Reuters the number of people confirmed to have been killed has now reached 912. Associated Press put the latest number at 948.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Huffington Post, Benetton CEO Biagio Chiarolanza said his company bought t-shirts from a company called New Wave Style, which operated one of the several garment factories inside the Rana Plaza building.
"Women cannot support their families on $40 a month. Yes, unemployment is worse, but that is no justification for paying sub-poverty wages that are half of the wages in the next lowest-cost country."
“The New Wave company, at the time of the tragic disaster, was not one of our suppliers, but one of our direct Indian suppliers had subcontracted two orders,” Chiarolanza told the HuffPo via phone from Italy, where Benetton is based.
In an interesting insight that showcases the role played by western retailers and clothing-makers, the executive also confirmed that contract from the New Wave Style was pulled, not because of unsafe working conditions at the factory, but seemingly because order deadlines were not being met or "quality" of the products was down. As HuffPo reports:
One of Benetton’s suppliers in India had issues fulfilling orders, and offered the option to relocate a portion of its work to several manufacturers located in Bangladesh, according to a Benetton executive who spoke on condition he not be named. New Wave was one of those manufacturers.
Benetton decided to stop production with New Wave one month before the deadly collapse occurred, due to the manufacturer's inability to meet “strict” quality and efficiency standards, Chiarolanza said.
Labor rights groups often cite the high pressure put on factory owners and managers as a key reason why workers suffer as threat always remain that if costs are not kept low and tight schedules kept, the factories will simply be dropped for ones who can meet the requirements. Such a scenario creates a "race to the bottom" for wages, safety, and workers' rights.
The confession of Benetton's connection to the disaster comes only after initial denials of their involvement were disproved when clothing with Benetton labels were pulled from the rubble.
Chiarolanza offered many reasons why his company could not have known the conditions of the faulting factory, but said leaving Bangladesh was not a good option. Though he promised his company would make efforts to improve their guidelines and processes for auditing contractors, labor rights groups remain unimpressed with the responses from Benetton and other large companies who sustain the sweatshop factories across the developing world.
"If Benetton is serious about preventing future accidents, they will sign a binding, enforceable agreement that requires them to pay for the repairs and renovations needed to make their factories safe," said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent organization that monitors labor rights. "They have made no such commitment and given their track record of public dissembling since the collapse, people can be forgiven for not taking them at their word."
"The wages in Bangladesh are an act of cruelty," he told the Huffington Post. "Women cannot support their families on $40 a month. Yes, unemployment is worse, but that is no justification for paying sub-poverty wages that are half of the wages in the next lowest-cost country."