Avaaz Case Study

An advocacy campaign helped set the precedent for holding corporations accountable to their supply chains.

Photo credit: Flickr/Solidarity Center

An advocacy campaign that put pressure on Benetton to help cover victim recovery after the 2014 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. This helped set the precedent for holding corporations accountable for supply chain issues.

When garments factory Rana Plaza collapsed in April 2013, killing over 1,100 workers and injuring around 2,500 more,1 fashion brands known to have sourced clothes from the Bangladeshi sweatshop faced swift condemnation.2 Mango, Zara, Walmart and other high street retailers came under fire for ignoring unsafe and inhumane working conditions in their supply chains.3

Out of the outrage came positive news, when the UN launched a ground-breaking trust fund to raise money for victims and their families.4 But the response from companies was disappointing. The International Labour Organization calculated at least US$30 million was needed, but the retailers couldn’t agree how to divide the burden and were ultimately left to make voluntary payments.5

Italian clothing company Benetton refused to pay in at all.6  For campaign group Avaaz, this was a step too far. Benetton had donated US$500,000 to a local NGO after the disaster,7 but the UN fund was an opportunity for the world to set a precedent in more formal corporate accountability. It relied on broad participation, and would not work if a major player could simply opt out.8

So Avaaz swung into action, launching an online petition and asking members to pressure Benetton on Facebook.9 Setting out to highlight the gap between Benetton’s professed ethics and its failure to pay up, protesters drove a billboard showing a Rana Plaza victim lying on a stretcher around its hometown of Treviso.10 Mimicking the brand’s United Colors of Benetton marketing, the sign read: “Benetton: show us your true colours.”11 Finally, Avaaz wrote to CEO Marco Airoldi directly. Its message: we think you want to do the right thing. This is your opportunity.12

By Milan fashion week the following year, 1.1 million people had signed the petition and Benetton was ready to respond.13 Just before the tragedy’s second anniversary, the retailer paid US$1.1 million into the trust fund.14 It also promised to raise working conditions across its supply chain.15 While Avaaz remains disappointed with the company’s financial contribution,16 there is no doubt its advocacy effort produced results.17 In addition to money, the activists helped bolster an important scheme to hold multinationals to account over labour standards. In the words of campaign director Dalia Hashad: "When workers die, you cannot walk away.”18

References

1 The Guardian. (2015) “Rana Plaza collapse: dozens charged with murder”. Associated Press in Dhaka, 1 June. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/01/rana-plaza-collapse-dozens-charged-with-murder-bangladesh. 

2 North, A. (2013), “Dhaka Rana Plaza collapse: Pressure tells on retailers and government”. BBC News, 14 May. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22525431.

3 See https://cleanclothes.org/news/press-releases/2015/02/11/pressure-increases-on-benetton-to-pay-up 

4 Avaaz. “Our clothing kills”. https://secure.avaaz.org/en/benetton_pay_up_wa_ctrl/?pv=101&rc=fb. 

5 Kazmin, A. (2015) “How Benetton faced up to the aftermath of Rana Plaza”. The Financial Times, 20 April. https://www.ft.com/content/f9d84f0e-e509-11e4-8b61-00144feab7de.  

6 Avaaz. “Our clothing kills”. https://secure.avaaz.org/en/benetton_pay_up_wa_ctrl/?pv=101&rc=fb.

7 Kazmin, A. (2015) “How Benetton faced up to the aftermath of Rana Plaza”. The Financial Times, 20 April. https://www.ft.com/content/f9d84f0e-e509-11e4-8b61-00144feab7de.

8 Organisation interview

9 Ibid

10 Kazmin, A. (2015) “How Benetton faced up to the aftermath of Rana Plaza”. The Financial Times, 20 April. https://www.ft.com/content/f9d84f0e-e509-11e4-8b61-00144feab7de.

11 Ibid

12 Organisation interview

13 Ibid

14 Kazmin, A. (2015) “How Benetton faced up to the aftermath of Rana Plaza”. The Financial Times, 20 April. https://www.ft.com/content/f9d84f0e-e509-11e4-8b61-00144feab7de.

15 Smithers, R. (2015) “Rana Plaza disaster: Benetton donates $1.1m to victims' fund”. The Guardian, 17 April. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/17/rana-plaza-disaster-benetton-donates-victims-fund-bangladesh.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.