Accountability in Global Fashion Industry Supply Chains : An Investigation of Post Rana Plaza Regulatory Initiatives in Bangladesh

  • Sharmin Shabnam Rahman

Student thesis: Phd


Bangladesh has gained negative world media publicity over the employment of child labour, poor working conditions, health/safety concerns, and human rights issues for years, particularly in the ready-made garments (RMG) sector. Western clothing brands (for example, Gap, JC Penny, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Phillips -Van Heusen, Primark, H&M, Wal-Mart, M&S, Next, Target etc.), who supply many of their products from developing countries like Bangladesh, have primarily highlighted worries about safety and working conditions of the garments factories in Bangladesh. After the high profile Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, killing at least 1,100 people, the buyers of Bangladeshi RMG products, at the present demand some degree of assurance regarding human rights issues in RMG factories in Bangladesh. This demand has elevated grave concerns regarding Bangladesh's capability to maintain as a sustainable supply chain. Simultaneously, much interest has been paid to the role and responsibility of retailing companies, factories, social auditing companies, apex bodies and the state. This study utilizes a qualitative research approach, by means of semi-structured interviews to explore the regulatory developments made post Rana Plaza, investigate the workplace safety issues in the readymade garments sector performed through third-party quality assurance/auditing providers, and try to assess whether the provision of social audit of human rights issues is really bringing in the looked-for purpose by taking into consideration the socio-political arrangement and local culture of Bangladesh. Firstly, a documentary study was employed to identify significant issues in the social audit from the comments, reports, write-ups and videos provided by a broad group of interested parties. The issues identified from the documentary study are then used in developing interview questions so that relevant themes are covered in the second stage of the study, which involves semi-structured interviews with retailer brands, third-party assurance providers, factories, Big 4 firms, workers, and regulators. Moreover, this research uses Legitimacy Theory and a notion of Accountability as a theoretical lens to analyze the findings. The most significant contribution of the finding is that organisations seem to present symbolic disclosures as a direct response to legitimacy threats, but if the stakeholders' pressures are continued, then the organisations will make substantive changes to their social audit practices, and then disclose this information. These changes are reflected in the internal reporting process because these organizations are privately owned companies who do not require to publish their annual reports publicly. This research also provides a critical analysis of compliance and governance regimes that have materialized in order to deal with global production networks. The politicization of multinational corporations is mirrored by their power and capability to build up an ‘inclusive', but private regimes of governance linking market, state and civil society actors, and this work highlights the restrictions of these regimes in addressing oppressive labour conditions. This study offers empirical contribution by providing evidence of the post-Rana Plaza initiatives through interviews from different actors in the RMG sector in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is selected for many reasons. First, because Bangladesh, particularly regarding poor working conditions and related treatment of the labours in the clothing industry, has been a focus to comprehensive international inspection. Secondly, there is a lack of research that explains the reporting behaviour related to human rights risks of the firms, especially in the ready-made garments industry. Lastly, at the policy level, Bangladesh can provide an opportunity to consider how perceptions and international pressures control the disclosure of operating and social reporting strategies associated with human rights
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJaved Siddiqui (Supervisor) & Kenneth Mcphail (Supervisor)


  • Accountability
  • Legitimacy Theory
  • Global Supply Chains

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