On 24 October 2013, the Rana Plaza disaster in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, triggered a huge outcry. Over a thousand people were killed when the building, which housed garment factories, collapsed. The tragedy drew attention to the conditions widely endured by workers employed by the subcontractors of major brands and European companies, such as Carrefour, Mango, Auchan and Primark. None of these multinationals have since been brought to justice. The obstacle lies with the buyer relationship and the difficulty, if not impossibility, of proving that the parent companies were aware of the working conditions of their suppliers’ employees.
In 2017, France became the first country to adopt a law on ‘duty of care’ or due diligence. For the first time, this ground-breaking legislation establishes a criminal relationship between the parent company of a multinational corporation and its subsidiaries and subcontractors in the event of human or environmental rights violations. In short, it seeks to prevent large companies from hiding behind their status as buyers.
“The Rana Plaza disaster played a significant role in raising awareness about the issue, although we had been working on this legal void for some time, as similar incidents had happened before,” explains Sabine Gagnier, advocacy officer at Amnesty International France.