Garment industry

Rana Plaza: investigation launched against Auchan for ethical "deception”

It is the first legal action to be taken against an international brand implicated in the Rana Plaza tragedy. More than 1,100 people were killed last year by the collapse of the textile factory in Bangladesh. Three French organisations have lodged a formal complaint against French retail multinational Auchan for “deceptive commercial practices”, and public prosecutors in Lille have confirmed that a preliminary investigation has been launched.

This article was originally published in French. Translation: Stephen Nichols.

The plaintiffs directly challenge Auchan’s ethical claims, used by the multinational to burnish its social reputation, while at the same time its refuses to recognise any responsibility with regards to the tragedy or to contribute to the victims’ compensation fund. However, a label of the brand In Extenso, which belongs to Auchan, was found in the rubble of the Rana Plaza.

The three organisations are Sherpa, Peuples Solidaires (Action Aid) and Éthique sur l’étiquette (Clean Clothes Campaign) who, in a joint press release, declared that “the launch of this investigation could, for the first time in Europe, explore the legal ramifications of the gap between the ethical communication of some firms and the actual practices that they tolerate and from which they benefit”.

The choice to sue Auchan for “deceptive commercial practices” was made necessary by the limitations of French (and international) law when it comes to corporate responsibility. A few months ago, a similar legal action was launched by the same organisations against Samsung, who was also accused of using their “code of conduct” as an advertising gimmick, even though its provisions are not respected in its suppliers’ factories. (For more on this, read our article on Sherpa’s legal strategies against multinationals (in French)).

Auchan declared itself “at the investigators’ disposal” and now frankly denies any link with the Rana Plaza factory, at odds with the group’s initial stance.

For more information, see our two-part investigation on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy and the responsibility of the French multinationals (here in French).

As recalled by Le Monde, “while some global clothing brands who were not directly implicated in the Rana Plaza catastrophe gave a small contribution [to the compensation fund], Auchan has not paid a single penny”.

Olivier Petitjean