Foreign Factory Audits, Profitable But Flawed Business

Last week’s factory collapse in Bangladesh killed at least 386 people. Hundreds more are still missing, making it one of the largest manufacturing disasters in history.

This is just the latest horrific accident in the garment industry despite more than a decade of auditing aimed at improving working conditions in the developing world.

Disasters in the garment industry just keep coming. In September 2012, a fire at the Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan killed nearly 300 workers. Six weeks later in November, a fire in the Tazreen factory in Bangladesh killed 112 people. And then last week, there was the Rana Plaza collapsed.

These factories made clothes for major Western retailers including Benetton, Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney. All of them had been inspected by what are known as social auditors. This social auditing industry once promised to root out the most dangerous and unsafe working conditions in the developing world.

In the past 20 years, it’s become a big business inspecting factory working conditions and safety.

The social auditing industry traces its beginnings to child sweatshop scandals of the 1990s.

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