$2.3trn investor coalition presses companies following latest Bangladesh industrial accident

Deadly Tampaco Foils fire puts supply chain spotlight on Nestlé, BAT

A group of 66 leading international investors with a combined $2.3trn (€2.07trn) in assets under management has called on companies to react to the latest deadly supply chain incident in Bangladesh.

Signatories to the statement, coordinated by the US-based faith investment body the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), include investors such as France’s ERAFP, Australia’s Christian Super, the UK’s Strathclyde Pension Fund and Norway’s KLP.

It follows a fire at packaging firm Tampaco Foils Ltd. near the capital Dhaka in September that led to the deaths of 35 workers and injured more than 50 others.

It’s the latest in a string of disasters, the worst of which was the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 that cost more than 1,100 lives. The investors said deadly fires and collapsing buildings have become “almost commonplace” in a country where low-cost manufacturing is driving an unprecedented growth in factories. The ICCR coordinated the investor response to Rana Plaza.

“Investors who have been advocating for greater protections of factory workers through comprehensive fire and safety inspections are alarmed and saddened by this latest tragic — and avoidable — loss of life,” the investor coalition said in a joint statement.

They said the factory handles packaging for companies including British American Tobacco (BAT) and Nestlé, saying: “These companies need to take urgent steps to avoid further loss of life, not only in factories in Bangladesh but throughout the full reach of their global supply chains.”Nestlé has said it was “shocked and saddened” by the accident and that prioritising the health and safety of workers, and ensuring that fire prevention and emergency procedures are in place, are “non-negotiable requirements” for its suppliers. It added that an audit of the factory in 2011 “found a number of deficiencies” which were rectified by a follow up inspection in December 2012.

BAT said in a tweet on September 27 that it was working with the Bangladesh government to “ensure families of those affected by plant accident are compensated” and that it was working with the Ministry of Labour to agree what additional humanitarian support was required. Just days before the accident, BAT was ranked first in the Institute of Directors’ Good Governance index.

An online petition organised by advocacy group SumOfUS calling for BAT and Nestle to compensate the victims has reached 76,517 signatures.

The investor statement, for its part, calls on the companies to use their leverage to ensure that their suppliers fully comply with the types of protocols mandated by the Bangladesh Accord, a legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions for the garment industry.

Specific action demanded by the investors:

  • Comprehensive fire and safety inspections
  • Worker training on fire and safety procedures
  • Compensation following the model of the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund.