• Ethical performance scores in Bangladesh have risen by an average of 15% during the past 12 months, according to new statistics on factory inspections and audits.
  • The country's scores have overtaken China and India as pressure on the country continues following Rana Plaza – but its factories are still plagued by health and safety issues.
Bangladesh has faced continuous pressure by industry groups to improve ethics, and health and safety in factories

Bangladesh has faced continuous pressure by industry groups to improve ethics, and health and safety in factories

Bangladesh has overtaken China and India in ethical compliance in the apparel sector, a new survey suggests, thanks to improved workplace safety following pressure from international inspection and remediation agencies in the years following Rana Plaza.

According to AsiaInspection's first quarterly report of 2018, ethical scores in Bangladesh rose by an average of 15% during the past 12 months, likely reflecting continuous pressure for improvement following the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse.

Nevertheless, data from the report shows factories in Bangladesh are still plagued by health and safety issues, which were ranked the most pressing concern of the quarter, taking over working hours and wage compliance. Factory scores for health and safety are roughly 9% behind the aggregated average.

This is consistent with the field data of AI structural safety audits, which indicate the percentage of factories at immediate risk is steadily inching upwards. Overall, only a third of all factories received a passing grade for combined structural, fire and electrical safety, while 57% require remediation to mitigate medium-term risks. And the majority of critical safety violations observed by AsiaInspection were attributable to fire safety issues.

Ethical scores by industry remain disparate, but those of textile and apparel manufacturers have been rising since mid-2017, indicating that long-term improvement efforts may be finally bearing fruit.

Indeed, by region, south and southeast Asia have shown some much needed improvement in ethical performance. By contrast there has been little change for Chinese manufacturers, with average scores flat at 7.7 out of ten.

"Time will show whether this quarter's data represents a positive turnaround, with lasting improvement hinging on regular follow-up and timely corrective action," saus the report.

As well as facing a global trade stand-off, China's manufacturers are faced with having to comply with new anti-pollution laws as the demand for global environmental audits increases. AsiaInspection says pollution and waste management accounted for over 80% of non-compliances found in the quarter, with over two-thirds classified as major.

And while data from on-site product inspections showed in-factory quality to be gradually improving globally in the long term, this trend is not universal, with made-in-China manufacturing quality found to be suffering.

Following a decent performance in 2016, failure rates rose throughout 2017. In the first quarter of 2018, some 23% of products failed inspection in-factory, a 7% increase in quality failures – primarily due to labour shortages around the Chinese New Year, with many forced to cut corners to meet delivery schedules.

The textile industry, despite notable improvement in the long term, retains the highest failure rates for product inspections, with 28% of all textile products in the quarter found to be outside of product specifications.