Germany's Ministry of Economic Affairs has acknowledged the need for reform of factory audits in Bangladesh's textile industry.

A statement issued by the German National Contact Point (NCP) last week on the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in the Rana Plaza proceeding against auditing company TÜV Rheinland is expected to pave the way to fundamental reforms.

The NCP recommends a dialogue with audit companies, standard setting organisations, brands, factories and trade unions. The dialogue, it says, should address transparency of audit reports and whether factory owners should pay for audits. The German body takes a clear stance on the measures audit firms could already implement, such as the stronger involvement of worker representatives. 

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and its partners, the Bangladeshi Garment Workers Unity Forum, the Comrade Rubel Memorial Center, the Rana Plaza Survivor Group as well as FEMNET and Medico International from Germany have welcomed the final statement.

In May 2016, ECCHR and its partners filed an OECD complaint against TÜV Rheinland for its failure to notice the presence of child labour, lack of freedom of association, risks of building safety, and disciplinary measures against the workers in its audit report for a factory in the Rana Plaza complex.

For two years, the organisations sat around the table with TÜV Rheinland, and at the last moment, TÜV Rheinland broke off negotiations.

"Social audits are part of the problem rather than a solution, providing minor remedies while legitimising worker exploitation in global supply chains," says Moniruzzaman Masum of the Comrade Rubel Memorial Center in Bangladesh.

Carolijn Terwindt, senior legal advisor for ECCHR, adds: "Auditing firms should publicly recognise that they have their own responsibility towards stakeholders along their business operations."

Gisela Burckhardt, chairperson of FEMNET, believes workers should have access to an adequate remedy against negligent auditing companies. She adds: "Auditors should conduct off-site worker interviews and audit results should be made accessible to the public or at least trade unions and workers."

Overall the handling of the NCP procedure has improved since 2010, when ECCHR first filed an OECD complaint in Germany. However, the organisations stressed the serious obstacles for the affected in Bangladesh to be part of the negotiations and to campaign about the case.