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Rana Plaza as a Threat to the Fast Fashion Model? An Analysis of Institutional Responses to the Disaster in Germany


Based on an analysis of the main institutional responses to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, we find that the catastrophe produced institutional change in some areas, but has thus far failed to do so in others. We focus our analysis on Germany, which has significant garment import from Bangladesh. Specifically, we find that the majority of governance initiatives are production-oriented and not consumption-oriented. This means that they are mostly geared towards changing working conditions at supplier factories and not towards challenging the fast fashion business model and the related consumer behavior. By drawing on the ‘focusing events’ framework we outline the problem definition, policy templates, and actors behind the most important initiatives and are thereby able to offer explanations for this outcome. We conclude by outlining alternative consumption-oriented courses of action that could complement production-oriented initiatives.
Rana Plaza as a Threat to the Fast Fashion Model? An Analysis of Institutional
Responses to the Disaster in Germany
Nora Lohmeyer
Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Elke Schüßler
Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria
in: Becker-Leifhold, C./Heuer, M. (ed.) Eco Friendly and Fair: Fast Fashion and Consumer Behavior.
London and New York: Routledge, Ch. 1, pp. 3-14.
We thank the Volkswagen Foundation for providing funds for conducting this research in the
context of the “Europe and Global Challenges” Program. We would also like to thank Julia
Bartosch and Stephen Frenkel for useful comments on an earlier draft.
Author names in alphabetical order.
Based on an analysis of the main institutional responses to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in
2013, we find that the catastrophe produced institutional change in some areas, but has thus
far failed to do so in others. We focus our analysis on Germany, which has significant
garment import from Bangladesh. Specifically, we find that the majority of governance
initiatives are production-oriented and not consumption-oriented. This means that they are
mostly geared towards changing working conditions at supplier factories and not towards
challenging the fast fashion business model and the related consumer behavior. By drawing
on the ‘focusing events’ framework we outline the problem definition, policy templates, and
actors behind the most important initiatives and are thereby able to offer explanations for this
outcome. We conclude by outlining alternative consumption-oriented courses of action that
could complement production-oriented initiatives.
The Rana Plaza factory collapse
On the 24th of April 2013, a nine-story garment factory in Sabhar, a city in the north-
west of Dhaka, collapsed. More than 1100 workers died and more than 2400 people were
injured. The collapse of the Rana Plaza building is one of the deadliest accidents in the
history of the global garment industry, but sadly only one in a series of factory accidents in
Bangladesh, Pakistan and other garment-producing countries.
The reasons for such accidents are manifold. Since the 1970s, when big retailers
shifted most of their sourcing to Asia to realize rock-bottom prices through economies of
scale and wage arbitrage, the garment industry has been subject to immense price
competition. Together with a history of complicated customs and trade laws (Rivoli, 2005),
this price competition has led to an ever-increasing complexity of global production networks
These factors have been aggravated by the rise of the ‘fast fashion’ business model.
Defined by the objective of getting fashionable, low cost clothing into stores “within the
shortest time possible” (Bruce & Daly, 2006, p. 330; Cachon & Swinney, 2011), fast fashion
– in addition to pressure on prices – intensifies time pressure and demands for high
flexibility. These strains are passed on from lead firms to suppliers. Often understood as a
“consumer-driven-approach” (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010; Barnes & Lea-Greenwood,
2006), fast fashion plays an important role in shaping the conditions for suppliers and their
workers in the so-called Global South today. Empirical research shows that the characteristics
of the fast fashion segment “create additional constraints on supplier firms and workers and
circumscribe social upgrading prospects” (Plank, Rossi, & Staritz, 2012, p. 15). Taplin (2014)
directly holds fast fashion consumption responsible for disasters like Rana Plaza.
Despite longstanding efforts to integrate consumers more meaningfully into industrial
relations research (Heery, 1993; Frenkel, Korczynski, Shire, & Tam, 1999), consumers are
still often ignored as an industrial relations actor (Kessler & Bach, 2011, p. 81). This is
surprising given that consumer-driven social movements can play an important role in
pressurizing lead firms towards more ethical behavior (Bansal & Roth, 2000; Reinecke &
Donaghey, 2015). Donaghey and colleagues (2014, p. 230) “argue for the need to focus on
the consumer who, despite being a postproduction actor outside of the employment contract,
has become an important driver of private labor governance.” Global supply chains in the
garment industry are buyer-driven (Gereffi, Humphrey, & Sturgeon, 2005), and it has been
argued that initiatives for change should focus less on the supplier and more on the buyer side
(Anner, Bair, & Blais, 2013), i.e. on the interface at the point of consumption where
reputational damage is a strong concern. Against the background of the decreasing role of
union membership and density in many countries, and the inability of states to regulate
working standards, consumer campaigns might be an effective means to drive a stronger
regulation of global supply chains (O’Rourke, 2011).
While consumer-driven initiatives have contributed to the formation of the Accord for
Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Reinecke & Donaghey, 2015), for example, it is
surprising to see few institutional initiatives that target consumer behavior as an outcome, for
instance through greater transparency about production conditions and the detrimental effects
of fast fashion consumption. Even though consumers should not be made responsible for
labor standards violations, consumers can be an important driver of social change, either
through anti-consumption or through forging new forms of consumption (Hartl, Hofmann, &
Kirchler, 2016). To date, however, the most significant responses to the Rana Plaza disaster
were initiatives targeting a change in production conditions, such as building and fire safety
standards, and not a change in consumer behavior and the fast fashion business model.
In the following chapter, in order to shed light on the emergence of the
aforementioned imbalance, we will outline the main institutional responses to the Rana Plaza
disaster from the perspective of Germany, a core importer of ready-made garments from
Bangladesh. We will examine the focus of these initiatives, i.e. whether they focus on
changing the behavior of producers or consumers, as well as the actors and politics behind
them. Thus, we go beyond the distinction between production and consumption-based
mobilization strategies (Donaghey, Reinecke, Niforou, & Lawson, 2014; Reinecke &
Donaghey, 2015, 2016) towards distinguishing whether labor governance approaches in
global garment supply chains are production or consumption-oriented. Whereas the former
pays attention to the actor constellations pushing for change in labor standards governance
(e.g. labor actors vs. consumers and NGOs), we are looking at whether governance initiatives
aim at changes in the production or the consumption side of the supply chain, that is, whether
they are geared towards changing working conditions at supplier factories or challenging the
fast fashion model and the related consumer behavior. With regards to the latter, lead firms
play a somewhat intermediary role, because they can either be targeted by initiatives in their
role as buyers and coordinators of GPN (i.e. as involved in the production side, e.g. by
providing suppliers with a list of acceptable chemical inputs into production processes), or as
powerful market actors with the capacity to influence consumption practices (e.g. through
their business models).
Rana Plaza as a focusing event
The field-changing dynamic of so-called ‘focusing events,’ such as environmental
disasters, terrorist attacks, or industrial catastrophes, has often been highlighted (Birkland,
1997, 2004; Albright, 2011). A focusing event is commonly defined as
an event that is sudden, relatively rare, can be reasonably defined as harmful or
revealing the possibility of potentially greater future harms, inflicts harms or suggests
potential harms that are or could be concentrated on a definable geographic area or
community of interest, and that is known to policy makers and the public virtually
simultaneously. (Birkland, 1997, p. 22)
Focusing events due to these characteristics can promote certain policy agendas
and potentially lead to institutional change.
Focusing events allow for change to occur, as they might lead to the convergence of
already existing “streams” of problems, policies, and politics (Kingdon, 1995). That is, due to
a specific event, certain problems become salient and accepted by policy makers, might be
matched with policy ideas, and gain political momentum. For change to happen, all three
streams – problems, solutions/policies, and politics – need to be combined, a task that
requires so-called ‘policy entrepreneurs’ (Mucciaroni, 1992, p. 460-461) such as
governmental bodies, NGOs, unions, associations and other actors or coalitions of these
actors (Albright, 2011). However, the outcome of this policy process might vary, depending
on different representations of the three streams (Farley et al., 2007). Without doubt, the Rana
Plaza disaster can be interpreted as a focusing event, and our aim in this chapter is to look
more closely at the nature of the German policy outcomes that have ensued from it so far.
Our analysis is based on a series of 25 expert interviews with representatives from
business associations, policy makers, unions, NGOs, investors, and consultants conducted
between 2013 and 2017. The interviews are combined with insights gained from our ongoing
research of the garment industry in Germany and other countries (,
which includes attendance at several industry events.
Based on our research, we have identified five main policy responses to the Rana
Plaza disaster in Germany: the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (Textile
Partnership), the Garment Industries Transparency Initiative (GITI), efforts to develop an
employment injury protection scheme (EIPS) for Bangladeshi garment workers, initiatives
focusing on sustainable public procurement, as well as the online platform
We classify these initiatives as either production-oriented or consumption-oriented
(see Table 1) based on where they seek to effect changes.
Table 1
Definitions of core concepts
Production-oriented Consumption-oriented
Initiatives that aim to effect changes in
supplier practices either directly, e.g.
through local capacity building or funds for
improvement, e.g., fire and building safety,
or indirectly, by making lead firms more
accountable for supplier practices (e.g.
sustainable reporting initiatives)
Initiatives that aim to effect changes in the
behavior of end consumers and public
buyers, e.g. through information about the
detrimental effects of fast fashion or public
procurement policies, as well as initiatives
that aim to change organizational buyers’
business models towards more sustainable
consumption practices
Using the focusing events framework we analyze the problem (how is the problem
defined?), policy (which policy templates are used?) and political (which actors are
involved?) streams related to these initiatives and therewith explain why Rana Plaza has led
to substantial institutional changes with regards to the production side, but has failed to
address equally important issues, such as consumption behavior and the logic of fast fashion.
In Germany, as in many industrialized countries, Rana Plaza has opened a “policy
window” (Birkland, 2004, p. 181) and led to a variety of initiatives. Guided by the focusing
event framework, we provide an overview about the initiatives that followed from Rana
German actors such as the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the German Society
for International Cooperation (GIZ) or the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) are involved in numerous other
initiatives in Bangladesh and other developing countries. We did not include these initiatives in our analysis as
they have a broader development policy orientation and/or are typically not direct responses to the Rana Plaza
Plaza. Hereby, we show that the initiatives mainly focus on the production and not on the
consumption side. Table 2 summarizes our findings, which we will outline in more detail
Table 2
Analysis of the German responses to Rana Plaza
Initiative Problem stream –
problem definition
Policy stream –
existing templates
Political stream –
involved actors
Textile Partnership Production-oriented
(buyers and
Existing standards
and existing firm-
level initiatives
BMZ and lead firms
experienced in multi-
Garment Industries
Initiative (GITI)
Existing initiative
Industry experts and
lead firms
Employment injury
protection scheme
Existing accident
insurance system
(from Germany)
Public procurement
oriented (buyers)
Existing platform
NGOs focusing on
confrontation, rather
than cooperation,
GIZ, Engagement
Global, BMZ Consumption-
oriented (end
Existing platform
One of the most notable initiatives is the German Partnership for Sustainable
Textiles. The goal of the Textile Partnership is to improve the social, environmental, and
economic conditions along global garment supply chains (Textile Partnership, 2017; for a
detailed discussion, see Jastram & Schneider, 2015). This partnership was initiated by the
Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in October 2014 and – as a
multi-stakeholder-initiative – now comprises a variety of actors from garment retailers,
government, standard-setting organizations, NGOs and unions. Following already existing
standards, the members jointly developed an action plan, committing themselves to improve
social and environmental conditions, such as wages or the use of hazardous chemicals, at
their supplier sites. Consumer behavior or the member firm’s business models are not
addressed by this initiative, even though the Textile Partnership consistently emphasizes the
focus on the whole supply chain, “from raw material production to disposal” (BMZ, 2016, p.
thereby (potentially) addressing consumers. Moreover, one of the stated means towards
sustainable supply chains is “transparent communication, which allows consumers to easily
identify sustainable textiles” (Textile Partnership, 2015, p. 5, 2017, p. 2). However, no
explicit measures to address the consumer or the fast fashion model more generally have been
taken by this initiative so far.
A second response to Rana Plaza in Germany was the launch of the Garment
Industries Transparency Initiative (GITI). GITI was founded in early 2014 as part of the
Humboldt-Viadrina Governance Platform, with financial support from several lead German
firms (GITI, 2015, p. 1, 2016, p. 3). Very similar to the Textile Partnership, GITI’s goal is to
promote transparency and improve working conditions in the global garment industry and, in
order to realize these goals, build on a “joint approach of governments, companies, civil
society and trade unions in both producing and consuming countries” (GITI, 2015, p. 1,
2016). This policy approach was already successfully realized by the Extractive Industries
Transparency Initiative (EITI). Like the Textile Partnership, consumers are not directly
addressed by GITI – neither as part of the problem, nor the solution (GITI, 2016, p. 4). This
seems surprising as transparency is given center stage by this initiative –not least through its
name which is usually understood as an enabler for ethical consumption decisions. In the
All translations of quotes from German documents are the author’s own.
case of GITI, though, transparency is exclusively addressed with regards to actors like
governments, buyers, unions, suppliers, and NGOs. It is intended to help these actors get an
overview of supply chains in order to help them improve labor standards, but not as a means
of providing consumers with more information for making ethical consumption decisions.
This is further underlined in the initiatives’ problem definition:
Complex and often obscure supply chains are an underlying factor for many labour
standard implementation failures. For example, the working conditions at
subcontracted, unauthorized factories are generally worse than in listed factories.
Unauthorized factories do not receive attention by brands or multi-stakeholder
initiatives and the risk of accidents is higher. (GITI, 2016, p. 6)
Third, in a collaborative effort, the German Social Accident Insurance (Deutsche
Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung, DGUV), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the
BMZ (carried out by the German Society for International Cooperation, GIZ) work towards
the implementation of a public employment injury protection scheme (EPIS) for Bangladeshi
garment workers since December 2014. The idea is to transfer the public German accident
insurance system, which combines the elements of accident prevention, medical and
professional rehabilitation as well as financial compensation. The initiative involves a close
exchange and collaboration for instance through visits and joint conferences between
labor, industry, and government representatives from Bangladesh and Germany. The EIPS is
envisioned to prevent accidents like the Rana Plaza factory collapse through at least two
avenues. First, employers will have an incentive to invest more in occupational health and
safety and rehabilitation, since the protection scheme is primarily financed by employers
themselves. Second, and through its emphasis on social dialogue (i.e. deliberation between
employers and employees), it is expected that more effective accident prevention measures
(e.g. through occupational health and safety initiatives) will be developed. With its strong
focus on the Bangladeshi garment sector, this initiative is exclusively focused on the
production site.
Furthermore, new emphasis has been placed on sustainable public procurement after
the factory collapse of Rana Plaza. Since 2014, a new EU directive on public procurement
(2014/24/EU) and the revised Restriction of Competition Act allow for the consideration of
social and environmental criteria in public procurement decisions. Since the directives’
implementation in Germany on 18 April 2016, public institutions can require social and/or
environmental criteria in their public tenders. This initiative expands the platform ‘kompass-’ (‘sustainability compass’) which was founded in 2010 on behalf of the
BMZ and implemented by the GIZ and Engagement Global (with its Service Agency
Communities in One World) to inform and assist procurers at all administrative levels to take
social and environmental concerns in public procurement more into account (GIZ, 2016, p.
1). Since 2014 the platform also addresses the municipal level and provides information on
the legal requirements specific to federal states (ibid.). Similarly, Femnet (a German
women’s rights organization that has been working on the issue of working conditions in the
global garment industry since 2010) together with the city administration of Bonn and
supported by Engagement Global and the BMZ were working on a procurement policy too
(Burckhardt, 2017). In August 2015 they launched the first steps for a fair public procurement
campaign and since then have been assisting and advising procurement managers in
strengthening social criteria in the public purchasing of professional clothing. Moreover,
from 2017 on, the above-mentioned Textile Partnership has committed to working on fair
public procurement as well (Femnet & Eine Welt Bonn, 2017, p. 6). Finally, the federal
government foresees that 50% of the textiles for the Federal Administration will be procured
according to ecological and social criteria by 2020 (BMZ, 2014). Although this initiative
addresses the consumption side of the supply chain, and thus differs from the initiatives
discussed before, end consumers are not directly addressed by this initiative, nor does this
initiative affect the frontrunner firms of the German fast fashion industry.
The online platform (‘textile-transparency’) is one notable exception
among the variety of responses to the Rana Plaza disaster in Germany, as it directly addresses
consumers, aiming to assist them in making sustainable consumption decisions. The platform
was initiated and funded by the BMZ in cooperation with the GIZ in February 2015 as part of
the already existing platform (‘label-transparency’). By creating awareness
and assisting consumers and other actors to better understand environmental and social
standards and fair-trade as well as environmental labels, the platform aims to drive the market
penetration of sophisticated labels and the international implementation of high
environmental and social standards in the garment industry. In early 2017,
has been promoted through an advertising campaign, a website ( and an ad
shown in German cinemas, addressing (young) consumers in Germany and promoting fair
fashion as a “trend.” Although this campaign directly connects the working conditions of
garment workers (Selvie) with the consumption behavior of German consumers (Vero) for
the first time, it seems to be primarily concerned with promoting the engagement of the
Textile Partnership’s members, rather than problematizing their role and business models.
Consumption models of Western consumers, including fast fashion, have been
identified as part of the problem (Barnes & Lea-Greenwood, 2006; Taplin, 2014) and
consequently consumers have come to the fore as important actors in global garment
production networks (Reinecke & Donaghey, 2016). Nevertheless, our analysis shows that so
far consumers and the fast fashion business model have only played a small role in post-Rana
Plaza changes in Germany.
The focusing event framework tells us that for change to follow from a specific event,
the problem, policy, and political streams need to converge (Birkland, 2004; Farley et al.,
2007). Whereas all the above-mentioned initiatives were made possible or significantly
strengthened by the severity of Rana Plaza as a focusing event and the ensuing media
attention on the working conditions of garment workers, their foci might be explained by the
specific constellation of, first, the predominant problem definition following the factory
collapse, second, the previously available policy models, and, third, the existence of
legitimate policy entrepreneurs (Mucciaroni, 1992) or policy entrepreneur coalitions
(Albright, 2011), willing and able to act.
Due to the actors and policy proposals available, the Rana Plaza disaster was mainly
interpreted in Germany as a problem related to the place of production. This might be due to
the obvious violations of building standards at the Rana Plaza factory complex, as well as a
problem stemming from the pressure exerted on suppliers by Western buyers. As a result,
many institutional responses primarily focused on the production side, leaving the fast
fashion model with its heightened pressure on prices, lead times, and flexibility factors into
production conditions mostly untouched.
Several political dynamics might explain this outcome. First, although the Rana Plaza
disaster “threw open the window of opportunity for policy change,” the actual policies were
largely based on preexisting policy templates (Birkland, 2004, p. 179). For some initiatives,
such as the Textile Partnership and GITI, consistency with existing standards and policies
was even formulated as a goal (BMZ, 2014; GITI, 2016). GITI, for instance, explicitly
underlines its “support of existing initiatives,” writing: “The GITI does not stand in
competition to existing initiatives, but will build on and support current efforts that seek to
foster sustainable practices in the garment sector” (GITI, 2016, p. 4). In the case of GITI and
the Textile Partnership, these existing standards were all production-oriented, like the ILO
core labor standards, the OECD guidelines and the UN guiding principles. That is, although
the Rana Plaza disaster allowed for a renewed, and in parts more ambitious, emphasis on the
topic of labor standards, policy innovations following from this event were limited. Rather
the already existing production-orientation was continued and even strengthened.
Second, and related to first, the specific actor constellation pushing the topic during
the post-Rana Plaza period in Germany can explain the focus on production rather than
consumption-oriented initiatives. The leading actor in most of the initiatives was the BMZ,
supported by the GIZ, both of which are focused on development policy. One might thus
assume that the Textile Partnership’s focus might well have been different if the Ministry of
Justice and Consumer Protection would have been part of the post-Rana Plaza policy
coalition. In line with this observation, the involved actors’ experiences were much more
pronounced with regards to production-oriented than consumption-oriented initiatives. In
case of the GIZ, for instance, this experience even existed with regards to specific types of
initiatives, as the GIZ has been involved in developing the (production-oriented) Accord (cf.
Reinecke & Donaghey, 2016). Furthermore, the focus on the production rather than the
consumption-side might be a result of the international orientation of the actors involved in
these initiatives (especially the Textile Partnership and GITI). In the case of the Textile
Partnership, this has been underlined by the actors themselves: “From the outset, the
international focus [of the Textile Partnership] was set up due to the participation of
international firms.” (BMZ & BMAS, 2015, p. 10) In other initiatives, such as the EIPS,
international organizations, such as the ILO, were playing an even more pronounced,
coordinating role.
In contrast, consumption-oriented actors and initiatives focusing on the garment
industry are rare in Germany and, if existent, focus on different aspects. The publicly funded
consumer advice center (‘Verbraucherzentrale’), for instance, focuses more on consumer
protection rather than on changing consumer behavior. Likewise, NGOs in this field are rare
and have, so far, been focusing on campaigning against poor working conditions (e.g. with
flash mobs in front of retail shops or ad-busting campaigns) rather than on cooperation.
NGOs could, thus, not draw on established relations to firms and policy actors. To date, they
were unable to create powerful coalitions for change in consumer behavior or the fast fashion
model of German garment retailers and brands more broadly. In line with this argument, the
engagement of the German-based NGO Femnet, supporting sustainable public procurement,
is rather new and innovative and can probably be explained by the NGO’s active participation
in the Textile Partnership (not least in the steering committee). To our knowledge, this
situation is similar in other countries, but a more systematic evaluation of production versus
consumption-oriented initiatives in countries would be a fruitful avenue for further research.
In this chapter we argued that changing consumption behavior or firms’ business
models was not a focus of most German policy responses to the Rana Plaza disaster. Three
out of five German attempts to prevent future accidents and improve working conditions in
global garment supply chains were focused on the production side of the supply chain, i.e. on
Bangladeshi garment factories. One initiative was focused on buyers, specifically public
procurement, and one on providing transparency for end consumers. This imbalance is
surprising given that fast fashion and the underlying consumer behavior are seen as part of
the problem when it comes to working conditions in garment supply chains. Drawing on the
focusing event framework, we argued that this imbalance can be explained partly by the
predominant problem interpretation as production-based. More importantly, it can be
explained by the pre-existing policy proposals and initiatives that geared new initiatives
towards the pre-existing production-oriented ”template,” as well as by the focal actors
involved, which primarily acted on their international, production-oriented experiences and
along their original functions. Thus, some degree of institutional path dependence might
contribute to the ongoing lack of effective governance instruments regarding an improvement
of labor standards in GPN.
Among the two consumption-oriented initiatives we identified, the public
procurement initiative seems particularly promising. Compared to individual consumption,
public procurement can unfold greater leverage, because the buying behavior of public
institutions (e.g. cities, states or universities) is more stable and can be controlled by longer-
term policy decisions (Esbenshade, 2012; Wetterberg, 2010). The initiative focusing on the
end-consumer (, however, remains in the confines of information-led ethical
consumerism and neglects more political forms of consumer mobilization (Barnett, Clarke,
Cloke, & Malpass, 2005). This contrasts with production-oriented initiatives that draw on a
variety of concrete measures, ranging from social dialogue (GITI, EIPS) to financial
incentives (EIPS). Given their rarity and limited enforcement mechanism it is questionable
whether extant consumption-oriented initiatives bear the potential to push for the systemic
momentum that is needed to transform the behavior of end consumers in the West.
As a way forward, we not only need more consumption-oriented initiatives, but also
initiatives which are more creative and political in nature. Instead of just passively providing
information for which consumers need to proactively search, the information-led approach
taken in Germany could, first, involve more active forms of transmitting information via
awareness-raising campaigns, e.g. promoting trends for slow fashion (Pookulangara &
Shephard, 2013), or educational activities including providing negative information and
preventing misinformation, like greenwashing and forms of misleading marketing. Second,
consumption-oriented activities could go well beyond informational and educational
approaches, including more concrete and more political aspects such as providing financial
incentives to consume socially and environmentally sustainable (e.g. through taxes),
supporting the ‘politicization’ of consumers through support for campaigns and organizations
or promoting volunteering, demonstrating, boycotting or lobbying activities. Such approaches
draw on a “repertoire of political action” and go beyond appeals to ethical consumerism,
which remain within the confines of consumption, materialism, and individualism (Barnett et
al., 2005, p. 46).
Against the background of thesystemic risks” that are attached to global supply
chains (WEF, 2015), most likely a combination of production- and consumption-oriented
initiatives will be most effective in enabling the structural transformation that is needed to
address these risks. Neither the consumption-oriented nor the production-oriented approaches
outlined above are mutually exclusive, rather they can be expected to unfold their capacity in
a complementary manner (Reinecke & Donaghey, 2015; Barnett et al., 2005). Fashion
designers are beginning to recognize that sustainability starts with the conception of a
product, and not with its production. What is needed though is an acknowledgement of the
important role of consumers as industrial relations actors (see also Heery, 1993; Kessler &
Bach, 2011) – not as a culprit to blame, but as a potential driver for social change.
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... Since Rana Plaza, little has changed about this market dynamic. Based on an analysis of institutional and regulatory responses to Rana Plaza in Germany, Lohmeyer and Schuessler (2018) conclude that dominance is given to production-oriented measures, i.e., attempts to regulate labor standards at the point of production by auditing and monitoring supplier factories. Yet, such measures do not provide clear economic incentives for social upgrading. ...
Recent research has highlighted several pathways to social upgrading in global supply chains. We take a closer look at recent developments with regard to these pathways in the Bangladeshi garment industry. Focusing on the variety of potential paths allows us to take the initiatives of different actors as well as their interplay into account. Building on our own empirical research as well as other recent studies, we show that—especially since the Rana Plaza factory collapse—improvements can be observed with regard to outcome standards (e.g., working hours, building safety, etc.) but are still lacking in other areas, including important process rights. In analyzing these developments, we show that a hierarchy exists between different paths that have contributed to these improvements. While several paths to social upgrading have been activated since Rana Plaza, the extent to which this is the case differs. Critically, in Bangladesh, those paths that matter the most for the overall governance arrangement remain the least activated. We argue that the identified hierarchy, therefore, limits possibilities for more comprehensive and sustainable social upgrading. We conclude by formulating policy recommendations to support upgrading in the Bangladeshi garment industry.
... Ces réformes législatives sont pourtant urgentes si l'on veut exploiter le mouvement lancé par les initiatives de réglementation privées actuelles, dont le programme Action Collaboration Transformation, qui vise à instaurer un salaire décent dans les chaînes d'approvisionnement de l'industrie textile et de l'habillement (Ashwin et al., 2020), ou encore, en Allemagne, l'alliance pour des textiles durables (Bündnis für nachhaltige Textilien) (Grimm, 2019), destinée à institutionnaliser une négociation collective sectorielle et à élaborer des directives pour des pratiques d'achat transparentes et responsables. Des règles exemplaires régissant la passation des marchés publics et des systèmes de label transparents compléteraient la législation, en contribuant à faire évoluer le comportement des consommateurs (Lohmeyer et Schuessler, 2018). Toutes les enseignes de l'habillement implantées dans les pays dotés de ces règles seraient alors obligées de payer des prix suffisants pour que les normes convenues soient respectées, si elles veulent traiter avec des fournisseurs au Bangladesh. ...
Résumé En 2013, la tragédie du Rana Plaza mettait en lumière les défaillances de la réglementation du travail dans les chaînes d'approvisionnement mondiales de l'habillement. Qu'en est-il aujourd'hui, à l'ère du COVID-19? Et les travailleurs, comment s'en sortent-ils? Pour les auteurs, le système de gouvernance du travail (SGT), concept qu'ils définissent précisément, reste insuffisant, malgré le renforcement des règles de sécurité, et, sous l'angle des salaires, du temps de travail et des relations avec l'encadrement, la situation ne s'est guère améliorée. Cependant, la pandémie, facteur aggravant, pourrait jouer un rôle de détonateur en vue d'un renforcement du SGT. Les auteurs font plusieurs recommandations à cet effet.
... Das zweite große systemische Problem, welches eine strukturelle Verbesserung der Arbeitsbedingungen verhindert, ist das in der Branche dominante, auf billige und schnelle Mode ausgerichtete Geschäftsmodell (Reinecke et al., 2019). Dieses kann durch konsumorientierte Initiativen wie Informationskampagnen, öffentliche Rankings oder auch eine nachhaltige öffentliche Beschaffung stärker problematisiert werden (Lohmeyer & Schüßler, 2018). Letztlich braucht es aber flankierende gesetzliche Rahmenbedingungen wie ein Lieferkettengesetz, um die vielversprechenden kollektiven Ansätze wie den Accord oder ACT zu stärken und so systematische und dauerhafte Verbesserungen herbeizuführen (Bair et al., 2020;Ashwin et al., 2020a). ...
... For the textile industry, a pertinent example is the increasing trend to disclose corporate responsibility in the textile industry which is linked to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1000 workers. This acted as a key event in mobilizing stakeholders to act on health and safety initiatives in low wage textile economies (Lohmeyer and Schüßler 2018). As a result, a range of public and private governance initiatives have emerged, such as the Bangladesh Accord and Alliance aimed at improving health and safety standards, the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, as well as the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015. ...
The textile and fashion industry is associated with numerous ethical problems such as poor labour conditions, low wages, long hours and unsafe working conditions, as well as a range of negative environmental impacts. A key challenge is to reconcile the behavioural impacts across the value chain, from producers and manufacturers to consumers. Achieving real change requires organizational shifts across multiple levels of the textile and fashion value chain, away from focusing on the focal firm but across the entire value chain, as well as overcoming the information and knowledge deficits held by consumers and professionals alike. Awareness and information strategies such as sustainability labelling are a crucial step in promoting sustainable consumption through improved information provision which may facilitate an institutionalized shift towards embedding sustainability criteria into consumer decision-making processes.
This chapter presents the methodological approach of this study which comprises an interpretive research design interested in analyzing and interpreting objective and discursive meanings of responsibility. The research design sets out to achieve three goals: it aims to (1) open the concept of responsibility to its multiple meanings-in-use, (2) generate the necessary “tools” to evaluate how actors understand and enact a particular notion of responsibility, and (3) track responsibility beyond its mere rhetorical occurrence. The chapter adopts the “triangle model of responsibility” and modifies it to analyze responsibility attributions through textual analysis. The model is used in this study to systematize how causes and consequences of environmental problems are understood (‘event’), who is perceived as a relevant actor and how (‘identity images’), and what appropriate reduction measures are suggested (‘prescriptions’). By relating these three elements to each other, responsibility takes a specific form that can be compared and evaluated.KeywordsResponsibilityInterpretationMeaningDiscourseTextual analysis
Resumen El derrumbe del Rana Plaza en 2013 puso de relieve la deficiente regulación laboral en las cadenas mundiales de valor del sector de la confección. Ocho años después, en plena pandemia por COVID-19, los autores se plantean, utilizando el concepto de sistema de gobernanza del trabajo (SGT), qué ha cambiado y con qué consecuencias para los trabajadores. Con datos de entrevistas, observan mejoras en la seguridad de los edificios, pero no en salarios, horas de trabajo y derechos procedimentales. La pandemia ha exacerbado las deficiencias, pero podría convertirse en un nuevo evento focalizador para mejorar el sistema, para lo cual se formulan propuestas de políticas.
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The 2013 Rana Plaza building disaster highlighted the failure of labour regulation in global garment value chains. Eight years on, in the midst of Covid‐19, we ask: what changes have occurred in labour regulation and with what consequences for workers? Using the concept of a labour governance system (LGS), we show that despite improvements in building and worker safety regulation, the garment LGS remains weak, with wages, working hours and treatment of workers showing little improvement. The pandemic appears to have exacerbated these deficiencies but its demise offers an opportunity to strengthen the LGS along lines that we propose.
The textile and fashion industry is characterized by complex structures, multiple actors and globally interlinked supply chains. Increasing competitive pressures associated with the fast fashion business model has led to unsustainable practices along the supply chains resulting in negative ecological and social impacts. In recent years, pressure has been mounting on the industry, specifically on retailers and clothing brands, to address these issues. Consequently, sustainable procurement practices have gained importance in addressing these sustainability issues and buyers at multinational retailers are now not only taking price, delivery time and quality into account but are also increasingly required to consider social and environmental aspects in their decision-making. In this section, we provide an overview of traditional, as well as sustainable buying practices in the textile and garment industry, as well as delineating suggestions on which additional elements to consider, calling for a more comprehensive approach to sustainable procurement in the textile industry.
En los últimos años se han producidos numerosas investigaciones dedicadas al estudio académico de la moda sostenible lo cual nos confirma que se están producido un conjunto de conocimientos y actitudes compartidas hacia el tema de la sostenibilidad. La principal contribución de este trabajo está en ofrecer una visión más integrada de la moda y la sostenibilidad que deriva de los trabajos más recientes de la moda sostenible; y también de la teoría del actor- red (ANT) y la teoría de las prácticas sociales (TPS).
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Most research on private governance examines the design and negotiation of particular initiatives or their operation and effectiveness once established, with relatively little work on why firms join in the first place. We contribute to this literature by exploring firms’ willingness to participate in two recent, high-profile private initiatives established in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster in the Bangladesh ready-made garment (RMG) sector: the Accord on Building and Fire Safety and the Alliance for Worker Safety in Bangladesh. Using novel shipment-level data from U.S. customs declarations, we generate a set of firms that were “eligible” to join these remediation initiatives. We are able to positively attribute only a minority of US RMG imports from Bangladesh to Accord and Alliance signatories. Firms with consumer-facing brands, publicly-traded firms, and those importing more RMG product from Bangladesh were more likely to sign up for the Accord and Alliance. Firms headquartered in the USA were much less likely to sign onto remediation plans, especially the Accord.
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As the world economy becomes increasingly integrated, companies can shift production to wherever wages are lowest and unions weakest. How can workers defend their rights in an era of mobile capital? With national governments forced to compete for foreign investment by rolling back legal protections for workers, fair trade advocates are enlisting consumers to put market pressure on companies to treat their workers fairly. In Beyond the Boycott, sociologist Gay Seidman asks whether this non-governmental approach can reverse the "race to the bottom" in global labor standards. Beyond the Boycott examines three campaigns in which activists successfully used the threat of a consumer boycott to pressure companies to accept voluntary codes of conduct and independent monitoring of work sites. The voluntary Sullivan Code required American corporations operating in apartheid-era South Africa to improve treatment of their workers; in India, the Rugmark inspection team provides 'social labels' for handknotted carpets made without child labor; and in Guatemala, COVERCO monitors conditions in factories producing clothing under contract for major American brands. Seidman compares these cases to explore the ingredients of successful campaigns, as well as the inherent limitations facing voluntary monitoring schemes. Despite activists' emphasis on educating individual consumers to support ethical companies, Seidman finds that, in practice, they have been most successful when they mobilized institutions-such as universities, churches, and shareholder organizations. Moreover, although activists tend to dismiss states' capabilities, all three cases involved governmental threats of trade sanctions against companies and countries with poor labor records. Finally, Seidman points to an intractable difficulty of independent workplace monitoring: since consumers rarely distinguish between monitoring schemes and labels, companies can hand pick monitoring organizations, selecting those with the lowest standards for working conditions and the least aggressive inspections. Transnational consumer movements can increase the bargaining power of the global workforce, Seidman argues, but they cannot replace national governments or local campaigns to expand the meaning of citizenship. As trade and capital move across borders in growing volume and with greater speed, civil society and human rights movements are also becoming more global. Highly original and thought-provoking, Beyond the Boycott vividly depicts the contemporary movement to humanize globalization-its present and its possible future. Copyright © 2007 by the American Sociological Association. All rights reserved.
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With collaborative consumption, people are provided with access to a good rather than owning it. The current study addresses the problem of regulation in collaborative consumption communities, investigating whether governance increases cooperation, if and why consumers support a governance system and whether supporters and non-supporters differ in their distrust in others. To address these questions, an experiment (within-subject design) was conducted. After reading vignettes, participants indicated how likely they would cooperate and whether they support governance or not—giving reasons for their evaluation. The majority of participants support governance and governance increases cooperation. Supporters argue that humans are egoistic, whereas non-supporters are concerned about negative consequences, asking for alternative incentives. Supporters of governance also differ from non-supporters according to their trust in others. The current study allows valuable recommendation, as more and more sharing networks are created, facing the problem of whether to regulate access or not.
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Sustainable Fashion Governance can be defined as the sum of actors, initiatives, instruments, standards and strategies pursuing the objective to support, to incentivize, or to force social and ecologically sustainable value creation in the textile industry. We are currently observing an increasing variety of sustainable fashion standards and initiatives. However, effectiveness and impact of many approaches to Sustainable Fashion Governance are contested. In this context, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles is a promising sector-wide initiative. Its success depends on the serious willingness and commitment of its members, on a high-quality review process as well as on demonstrable and sustainable improvements in the supply chains of all partner firms.
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Global labour governance has typically been approached from either industrial relations scholars focusing on the role of organised labour or social movement scholars focusing on the role of social movement organisations in mobilising consumption power. Yet, little work has focused on the interaction of the two. Using an exploratory case study of the governance response to the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster, this article examines how complementary capacities of production and consumption- based actors generated coalitional power, and contributed to creating the “Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh”, making it binding and convincing more than 180 brand-name companies to sign up. The research has implications for understanding how the interface between production and consumption actors may provide leverage to improve labour standards in global supply chains.
Die Autorin, geschäftsführender Vorstand von FEMNET, weist auf die oft irreführende Verwendung des Begriffs CSR hin, mit dem Sponsoring oder auch nur die pure Einhaltung von Gesetzen verstanden wird. Sie weist auf die Gefahr der Schönfärberei durch CSR hin und den Versuch der Wirtschaft, mithilfe von freiwilligen CSR-Maßnahmen gesetzlichen Verpflichtungen vorzubeugen. Sie erläutert die Arbeit von FEMNET, deren Arbeit im Bildungssektor einen Schwerpunkt in NRW hat. Die Frauenrechtsorganisation kooperiert seit rund fünf Jahren mit (Fach-)Hochschulen für Mode, um die zukünftigen Einkäufer für nachhaltige Themen zu sensibilisieren. In dem Projekt sind zahlreiche Module entstanden und Multiplikatoren ausgebildet worden. FEMNET erstellte zudem zwei Einkaufsführer für faire Kleidung für die Städte Bonn und Köln (Letzteres in Kooperation mit einer Modeuniversität) und klärt über faire und ökologische Siegel auf. Die Frauenorganisation berät die Stadt Bonn beim Einkauf von fairer Dienstkleidung und wendet sich gegen die Errichtung eines Primark in der Fair-Trade-Stadt Bonn. FEMNET richtet sich aber auch im Rahmen der Clean Clothes Campaign mit Kampagnen an Bekleidungsunternehmen und arbeitet beim Bündnis für nachhaltige Textilien mit. Durch politische Kampagnen, Bildungsarbeit vor Ort, Beratung und Information der Öffentlichkeit konnte FEMNET zahlreiche Anstöße zu einer kritischen Reflexion von CSR geben.
This book examines and evaluates various private initiatives to enforce fair labor standards within global supply chains. Using unique data (internal audit reports, and access to more than 120 supply chain factories and 700 interviews in 14 countries) from several major global brands, including NIKE, HP, and the International Labor Organization's Factory Improvement Programme in Vietnam, this book examines both the promise and the limitations of different approaches to actually improve working conditions, wages, and working hours for the millions of workers employed in today's global supply chains. Through a careful, empirically grounded analysis of these programs, this book illustrates the mix of private and public regulation needed to address these complex issues in a global economy.
John Kingdon adapted the "garbage can model" of organizational choice to explain the agenda-setting process in the making of public policy. While this use of the model has many virtues, this article argues that it is ultimately too indeterminate to provide fully satisfactory explanations for why some problems receive serious consideration by government while others do not. Using tax reform and deregulation as illustrative cases, the author points to several sources of the model's indeterminacy and suggests how these problems can be overcome while preserving the strengths of the model.
This article reviews the last decade of scholarship on a leading corporate social responsibility initiative: the use of codes of conduct and monitoring in the global garment industry. The review focuses on three debates in the field: the evaluation of code and monitoring effectiveness, the problematic of various relationships in transnational anti-sweatshop campaigns, and the meaning of private regulation vis-a-vis state enforcement. The article concludes that codes and monitoring do not constitute a solution to the sweatshop problem and certainly cannot substitute for state enforcement or worker organizing. If private regulation is to contribute to a solution in a meaningful way, it must move from a model that presumes compliance and, therefore, focuses on ferreting out violators, to one that assumes non-compliance, and so concentrates on altering the structure of the industry.