Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Benetton B.S.

25-Page Code of Ethics Goes for Naught After Bangladesh Factory Tragedy

The unfolding coverage of the Bangladesh clothing factory collapse that's left about 400 people dead naturally includes coverage of which Western companies were the customers of the manufacturers in this hellhole.

Some companies have owned up to their responsibility, like Primark, a European budget chain that will compensate injured workers, family members of the dead and children whose parents were killed.

The company said: "We have partnered with a local NGO to address the immediate needs of the victims, including the provision of emergency food aid to families. This initiative began in Bangladesh immediately the extent of the disaster became clear."

All well and good if too little, way too late.

Then there is Benetton, which on the day of the tragedy denied any connection to the factory. That is, until labor workers found Benetton-labeled clothes and related paperwork in the charred hulk of the factory.

Well, all of a sudden the united colors of Benetton all turned a version of beet red. Then came a new story. Yes, turns out the Italian retail behemoth had put in one order with a subcontractor, but cut off ties after it determined that "long-standing social, labor and environmental standards" were not being met.

Benetton Group strongly reiterates that none of the manufacturers housed in the collapsed building is a supplier to any of our Group’s brands. We have since established that one of our suppliers had occasionally subcontracted orders to one of these Dhaka-based manufacturers.  Prior to the accident, that manufacturer had already been permanently removed from the list of potential direct or indirect suppliers. In fact, it had come to light that it no longer met the stringent standards that would have made it eligible to even potentially work for us.


So, while that's the kind of statement you put out following such a horrible event, what remains unanswered is why that statement emerged five days after the fire. How hard would it have been to determine if there were any links to the company, however attenuated they might be? After news of the collapse spread across the globe--and this is a rare example of a South Asian story that resonates with a U.S. audience--wouldn't it be incumbent upon the company to exercise due diligence not only to get its story straight but, more importantly, to protect the brand and its multi-culti street cred?

After all, Benetton has a 25-page code of ethics on its website. On paper, it's committed to doing the right thing. But when they have to backpedal at such an important moment, the company's  credibility takes a glancing blow no matter how sincere it professes to be about its commitment to human rights and the protection of those who toil for them in rickety deathtraps like the one in Dhaka.

The truth may be ugly. But telling it need not be.

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