The Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh seeded a storm of media coverage highlighting – if further emphasis were needed – how aggressive or predatory commercial decisions can lead to tragedy. Terrible factory fires and accidents almost seem routine in many places, a symptom of the conditions in which workers suffer long hours and low pay in substandard premises, where safety regulations – if they exist – are often flouted with impunity.
Two particular aspects of this incident resonate with articles in this issue, the first being that of modern supply chains and business continuity. Vast webs of interconnectedness and interdependence, supply chains can be astoundingly complex and easily disrupted. This could be due to physical phenomena such as fires, floods, blackouts (or building collapses), or in terms of reputational damage from working with unethical suppliers.
Sadly, it seems shareholders, the legal system and consumers are often quite forgiving of debatable ethics. But the Bangladesh incident does emphasise the importance of understanding and managing an organisation’s supply chains, whether public, private, not for profit or governmental.
The official response to the collapse also raises questions. International search and rescue assistance, including an offer from INSARAG, was turned down by the Bangladeshi Government. Yet, it didn’t take an expert to note certain flaws at the scene.
There appears to have been a fixation upon rescue gear, with the Head of the Fire Service saying he was instructed to accept offers of equipment, but not the personnel to operate it. There are also allegations that new thermal imaging kit was discarded at the scene as it was deemed not to work adequately.
Of course, it is far too early to assess what happened or to judge the outcomes, but it will be interesting to see what emerges – perhaps training and organisational practices might also benefit from further scrutiny.
This comment was published in 2013