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In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory complex in Dhaka Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,130 people and injuring another 2,500. According to reporting by European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, subsequent investigations found rampant human rights abuses including “grave human rights violations such as child labor, discrimination against women, the absence of trade unions and forced overtime.” Despite this, the facility had been audited a year prior for safety and working conditions by TUV Rheinland, against the social accountability workplace standard known as the “Business Social Compliance Initiative” (BSCI), an offshoot of the prior SA8000 standard.
Since then, TUV Rheinland has faced no legal consequences. The certification body agreed to participate in third-party managed mediation in 2018, which would have allowed TUV to provide a “humanitarian gesture” of compensation for the Rana Plaza victims, without acknowledging guilt, but the talks fell apart without any final resolution.
The BSCI program is not part of the ISO certification scheme, but instead managed by the Belgian organization amfori. According to the ECCHR, the program “is based on the standards of the International Labour Organization and aims to monitor and improve safety and working conditions in production countries.” Amfori insists the BSCI is “not a certification scheme.”
TUV Rheinland faced another global controversy over the PIP breast implants which were found to include industrial-grade silicone rather than required medical grade, despite the manufacturing holding a TUV Rheinland “CE” mark. TUV was found culpable in European courts in that case, which resulted in several deaths and cancer risks to tens of thousands of patients worldwide.
Routinely, certification bodies such as TUV escape legal consequences due to connections with government agencies, ties to international organizations such as ISO and the WTO, and by obscuring their liability through a complex and confusing web of accreditation rules, third parties and official-sounding policy documents.
UPDATE 4/1/2019: This article was edited to emphasize that TUV’s audit consisted of working conditions; the previous article suggested that TUV had audited the structural aspects of the building.
To OQRI, rnI have followed for a few years now your endless struggle to hold ISO accountable for failing to uphold the law.rnI have a few questions to you;rn1) Do you believe if the same companies were to stand by these standards that these disaster would not have happened?rn2) I know that 14001 and SA 8000 both have within them, clauses with requirements to state appropriate laws and to abide by them. I do not remember this within 9001.rn3) I would also like you to explain to me and if needed to show me in the form of a flow chart, how the law can hold a company who has one of these certificates or the auditor of one of these companies legally accountable when one of these disasters happen. rn4) And my question from nearly 30 years ago; If I am holding a 8001 or the now ISO 45001 certificate and there is an accident in my company. How do I fair in a court of law if I didn’t have this certificate?rn rnthanks Davidrn
I’ve edited the original report to clarify that TUV should have seen the humanitarian and human rights abuses, as that was part of their audit under the BCSI audit. They probably would not have spotted the structural problems. But had they reported the human rights abuses, those people may not have been in the building when it collapsed, since the building would have been closed.
As for the role of ISO certs in court, it has been used as a defense in some cases, but not often, and not with any level of success that suggests having the cert or not having it will help you (or hurt you) in court. Generally, the courts have no clue what ISO certifications are, and thus any judge or jury won’t really care.