Italian auditor “ignored fatal flaws” in garment factory

brett mathews | 10th September 2018

AMSTERDAM – More than 250 garment workers died in a garment factory fire in Pakistan after the company supposed to be auditing the building “failed to step foot” in it and consequently missed a raft of safety hazards. An international coalition of eight organisations from Pakistan, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have now filed a complaint at the Italian National Contact Point against Italian auditor RINA for issuing an SA8000 certificate at Ali Enterprises on the basis of a “deficient and incorrect audit report.” More than 250 people died and dozens were injured in a fire at the Ali Enterprises textile factory in Karachi, Pakistan, on 11 September 2012. Only three weeks before, Italian auditor RINA Services S.p.A. had certified the factory for abiding to international labour standards.

The complainants in the case are Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association (AEFFAA), National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), Campagna Abiti Puliti, Movimento Consumatori, medico international.

The complainants are urging that RINA publish the audit report of Ali Enterprises, to “ensure a more transparent audit procedure in the future which is accountable to workers.”

Furthermore, the complaint addresses what it claims are two general flaws of the auditing system, urging that audits should take into account the context of brands’ purchasing practices and include a payment system that avoids the current conflict of interest raising from factory audits paid by factory owners.

The complaint aims to show that the current system of audits “legitimises exploitation and creates false assurances that can cost lives and that therefore fundamental change is needed, in the field of transparency, accountability to workers and liability of auditing firms.”

Finally, the complaint asks that RINA also engages in the access and provision of remedy.

In a digital simulation of the fire, research agency Forensic Architecture, based at Goldsmiths, University of London, recently showed that if the factory‘s leniency on safety standards had been identified and acted upon, “hundreds of lives could have been saved.”

Responsible for the audit and the certification was Italian company RINA which, claim the organisations which have brought the case, “not only failed to visit the factory itself, but whose Pakistani subsidiary RI&CA (Regional Inspection & Certification Agency) allegedly also did not set foot in the factory.”

Ben Vanpeperstraete, lobby and advocacy coordinator of Clean Clothes Campaign, said: “It is clear that RINA did a poor job by signing off on an auditing report which clearly failed to identify crucial safety risks and lulled the factory owners and the commissioners of the audit into a false sense of safety. RINA should have noticed the many risks at the factory and used the leverage of the SA 8000 certification to make sure the factory made improvements before it was certified.”

Deborah Lucchetti, coordinator of Campagna Abiti Puliti added: “RINA’s refusal to disclose relevant information in the name of confidentiality obligations has hampered the work of human rights advocates and external independent parties to establish the facts and speed up the remediation process. This case shows once again the need for full public transparency by removing any contractual barriers between the auditing company and its clients.”

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