Responsibility and accountability for workplace safety in the Bangladesh garments industry

Akbar, S 2018, Responsibility and accountability for workplace safety in the Bangladesh garments industry, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Accounting, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Responsibility and accountability for workplace safety in the Bangladesh garments industry
Author(s) Akbar, S
Year 2018
Abstract This research investigates how apparel industry organisations have addressed their responsibility and accountability with regard to workplace safety following significant accident in the Bangladesh ready-made garment (RMG) industry. The research examines the corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy adopted by apparel industry organisations in relation to workplace safety in Bangladesh’s garment manufacturing factories, specifically the implementation of social governance initiatives and the publication of corporate social disclosures. The research comprises three distinct, interrelated studies. The first two studies (Study 1 and Study 2) look at implementation of social governance initiatives of the apparel industry and consider whether organisations are fulfilling their social responsibility, whilst the third study (Study 3) looks at corporate social disclosure practices to determine whether apparel industry organisations are fulfilling their accountability to society. The first stage of the research (Study 1) examines how a major industrial crisis in the Bangladesh RMG industry led to the introduction of workplace safety governance initiatives and investigates (any) subsequent changes relating to workplace safety in the RMG industry. The study incorporates managerial viewpoints of global apparel buying organisations sourcing from Bangladesh and of Bangladeshi garment manufacturing organisations. An institutional theory lens is used to analyse interview data and identify the key factors influencing the introduction and implementation of workplace safety governance initiatives. Study findings show that the introduction of workplace safety governance initiatives is attributable to limitations of the institutional pillars of the RMG industry, the legitimacy crisis facing the apparel industry (and individual apparel industry organisations) following large-scale industrial accident, and isomorphic pressures from powerful public, private and social sector constituents which motivated apparel industry organisations to address safety conditions in RMG factories. The findings indicate that despite some apparent improvement in RMG industry safety, change in the industry will be a gradual process which will require more than simply introducing changes in regulation, but which also entails a need to understand/address the underlying culture of business and society in Bangladesh. The second stage of the research (Study 2) reinforces the findings of Study 1 by presenting an influential third-party perspective evaluating workplace safety conditions in the RMG industry following introduction of workplace safety governance initiatives. The study considers the opinions of prominent international and local non-government organisations (NGOs) working to improve safety conditions in the RMG industry. The purpose of the second study, in parallel with the aims of the first study, is to establish whether the new safety initiatives have been effectively implemented and to consider whether safety conditions in the RMG industry may conceivably be improved in the long run. An institutional theory lens is (again) used to explain factors influencing the effective implementation of workplace safety governance initiatives for the RMG industry. Through this institutional lens, it is observed that whilst workplace safety governance initiatives were initially introduced to maintain legitimacy following the legitimacy crisis faced by the apparel industry/individual apparel industry organisations, as well as in response to international constituent pressures, the implementation of workplace safety governance initiatives is hampered due to local cultural issues (reflecting the local mind-set which does not prioritise workplace safety). The study findings draw attention to the inadequate enforcement and monitoring of public governance regulations and social governance initiatives and realities of the Bangladeshi socio-cultural environment which may potentially impede long-term improvement in safety conditions in the RMG industry. The responses from both managerial and NGO representatives point out that the effectiveness/success of workplace safety governance initiatives will require long-term commitment of international and local stakeholder groups including international NGOs, multi-national buyers and local garment manufacturers (to develop the local workplace safety culture) through providing increased safety training and education initiatives for the RMG industry and engaging further with local stakeholders to raise awareness and encourage participation in factory safety processes/procedures. The third stage of the research (Study 3) analyses workplace safety information published by apparel industry organisations (global apparel buying organisations and Bangladeshi garment manufacturing organisations) for a period surrounding major industrial accident. A workplace safety index, which is based upon apparel industry governance standards, is constructed to examine the workplace safety related disclosure practices of apparel industry organisations. A content analysis of apparel industry disclosures finds that apparel buyers disclose substantial workplace safety-related information (reflecting western culture which places importance on the issue of workplace safety) whilst garment suppliers disclose limited workplace safety information (reflecting a developing country context where the focus is on economic issues and workplace safety issues are not prioritised). Through the application of institutional theory (once again), the study establishes that institutional influences (legitimacy threats and global stakeholder pressures) upon the apparel industry following recent industrial disasters have led to increased emphasis on workplace safety in apparel industry disclosures. The study concludes that workplace safety related corporate disclosures of the apparel industry may be considered as primarily profit-motivated and influenced by the institutional environment, rather than being an indication of actual concern/accountability for improving workplace safety. As implied through the findings of the preceding studies (study 1 and study 2), only change in industry mind-set and development of the local culture/norms of safety will result in long-term improvement in RMG industry safety conditions. Such a change in the safety culture of the apparel industry might encourage publication of increased workplace safety related disclosures, which would demonstrate a greater accountability for workplace safety in the Bangladesh RMG industry. The research contributes to an overall understanding of how and why apparel industry organisations have addressed their responsibility and accountability with regards to workplace safety in the Bangladesh RMG industry. The identification of the various institutional factors (institutional pillars, legitimacy threats, and isomorphic pressures) which influence CSR strategy of apparel industry organisations (which includes implementation of social governance initiatives and publication of corporate social disclosures) represents a significant contribution to the literature. The findings from the research may be applied to further investigate and understand the CSR strategy followed within other apparel manufacturing countries as well as in other labour-intensive industries.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Accounting
Subjects Sustainability Accounting and Reporting
Keyword(s) Corporate social responsibility
Accountability
Social governance initiatives
Corporate social disclosure
Apparel industry
Workplace safety
Institutional theory
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Created: Fri, 29 Jun 2018, 10:57:01 EST by Adam Rivett
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