By: Eli Downs 

On April 24, 2013, the worst industrial accident in the fashion industry happened in Bangladesh.[1] Rana Plaza, a prominent garment factory in Dhaka, collapsed and killed 1,134 garment workers and injured 2,500 more workers due to substandard working conditions.[2] Rana Plaza workers made garments for many western fashion brands. Bangladesh supplies the fashion industry with 4 million workers, preceded only by China.[3] Due to the collapse of the factory and the deaths of garment workers, more than 200 western fashion brands including H&M, Fruit of the Loom, and fashion conglomerate PVH (owner of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein) signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.[4] This Accord, drafted by union representatives and fashion brands, created standards that factories must adhere to in order to ensure the safety of every garment worker.[5] The fashion brands supported the factories financially in order to upgrade certain safety features of garment factories.[6] If a factory did not meet the safety standard of the Accord, then it would lose its business with any fashion brand that signed the Accord.[7] This Accord has made a significant difference in garment factory safety in Bangladesh with an average 60 violations being corrected in each garment factory. Upgrades included installing fire escapes, fixing structural issues, and removing electrical hazards.[8] There is a real push to extend the five-year Accord to 2021. However, out of the original 220 fashion brands that signed the original Accord, only 60 want to extend the protections to 2021.[9] The strength of the Accord came from numbers due to the vast impact it had on a large portion of factories.[10] If fashion brands do not re-sign the Accord, the progress that Bangladesh made could regress and be forgotten. 

Substandard factory conditions are an international problem in the fashion industry. Factory workers striking against their employers has become a monthly, and sometimes weekly, occurrence in the fashion industry.[11] Ninety-five percent of union members in Korea, employed by Chanel and Estee Lauder, demanded higher wages and lower hours in 2018.[12] The main reason that fashion brands have not emphasized a living wage for workers or decent working conditions in factories is that fashion brands do not want to take on the liability. A brand is only legally liable for labor conditions of a garment factory if it directly controls that garment factory.[13] Therefore, fashion brands will purposefully limit their involvement of labor issues in garment factories.[14] For fashion brands to have a say regarding working conditions, the brand would have to integrate and take control of the supply chain. Fashion brands that take a leadership role in the supply chain have noticed higher production efficiency and higher product quality.[15] The risk of liability, however, outweighs the wonderful affects a fashion brand could experience by integrating. Fashion conglomerates will not acquire certain fashion brands due their high involvement in the supply chain, creating much higher liability for the fashion conglomerate.[16] While raising worker wages is a fair start, it is a band-aid to the real problem of fashion brands not taking responsibility of working conditions due to legal liability. If the fashion industry is ever going to progress, there needs to be higher incentives for fashion brands to integrate into the supply chain which creates better working conditions for garment workers everywhere. 

[1] Whitney Bauck, 5 Years After Rana Plaza, How Much has Changed in Bangladesh?,Fashionista(Apr. 12, 2018),  

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. 

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Whitney Bauck, 5 Years After Rana Plaza, How Much has Changed in Bangladesh?,Fashionista(Apr. 12, 2018),   

[8] Kierian Guilbert, Investors Urge Big Brand s to Back Safety of Bangladesh Garment Workers, Reuters (Jan. 26, 2018)

[9] Whitney Bauck, 5 Years After Rana Plaza, How Much has Changed in Bangladesh?,Fashionista(Apr. 12, 2018),  

[10] Id.

[11] Chanel Subject to Protest in Korea over Working Conditions, Agrees to Raise Wages, The Fashion Law(Mar. 28, 2018),

[12] Id.

[13] Kevin Sobel-Read,Fashion Industry Giants Keep Failing to Fix Labor Exploration, The Fashion Law (Sept. 5, 2019),  

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Michael R. Marra, M&A in the Fashion Industry: An Inside Employment Law Perspective; Outside Counsel, N.Y. L.J.(Aug. 21, 2017). 

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