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Spanish Garment Maker Loses Dream of Ethical Sourcing in Rana Plaza Collapse

When it’s deliver-or-die, supply chains become the lifeblood of a company. To that end, the fashion industry has embraced technology to navigate today’s hyper-complicated supply chain, with myriad solutions shaping the first, middle and last mile. Call it Sourcing 2.0.

When the Rana Plaza factory collapsed, it took David Mayor’s dream with it. The Spanish garment maker worked for over a decade to create a better factory in Bangladesh. His clothing brand, Tacsocial, promoted “change with a heart,” using a heart logo to promote their socially sustainable philosophies.

Now Mayor is under investigation for his role in the Rana Plaza disaster, which killed over 1,100 workers. He has not been arrested, but he has left the country and is refusing interviews. No factory owners have been charged, but the government has recommended they face charges of culpable homicide for their role in forcing workers to enter an unsafe building.

Mayor wanted to build an ethical factory and he calculated that he could do in two ways – by negotiating for more time from international buyers to minimize overtime, and by selling directly to consumers through a retail store in an upscale Dhaka suburb. For just 10 cents more per garment, he believed he could dramatically improve factory conditions, implementing worker training and other perks.

At first, Mayor’s experiment was a success. He invested in workers and their families and lived in Dhaka, building a close, personal relationship with his employees. He was popular with his staff, but reports indicated that conditions began deteriorating as the factory started accepting larger orders.

In 2007 Mayor started a new clothing firm, a joint venture with a local partner named Aminul Islam called Phantom TAC Ltd. He planned to improve working conditions, and in 2008 he moved the factory to Rana Plaza.

Workers reported that their wages were paid on time, bosses behaved well, and they left work by seven or eight at night. The factory had healthy conditions with lots of light. Mayor was able to book orders with Inditex and Mango, as well as Spanish department store El Corte Ingles, according to a former Phantom TAC official.

Mayor moved back to Spain to focus on marketing, visiting Bangladesh with new clients every few weeks. According to workers, that’s when things started going downhill.

Mayor was struggling with the economic downturn in Europe, and his “heart” boutique in Dhaka closed. The factory started to focus on large export deals. In the days leading to the collapse, the factory was working harder and harder to meet a sample order from Mango, as part of an attempt to secure a big, lucrative supply contract with the company.

Mango had not finalized its order because it had not received a trial sample that was up to standards, and the factory had not yet passed its compliance checks. At that point, line managers were apparently driving workers to stay at their stations through the night, according to workers. The growing tension was hidden from Mayor by Islam and the managers.

Managers at the factories in Rana Plaza ordered their workers to enter the building on the morning of April 24th, despite dangerous cracks appearing in the foundation.

Amarat Hossain, a merchandizer who worked for Mayor, was quoted in Reuters saying that he’d only survived because he was late for work that day. He arrived to the factory and found it was collapse. Mayor called Hossain shortly after, asking why he couldn’t get Islam on the phone.

When Hossain told him about the collapse, Mayor broke down on the phone. Approximately 200 workers and managers died at Phantom TAC.

Mayor has claimed his innocence, but labor activists have said that he could have found out about the excessive working hours and worsening conditions by checking the factory log books. He has not responded to messages or letters directed at his registered business address.

Bangladesh has no plans to issue an Interpol notice for him and is being careful to ensure that the charges against him are substantiated, but, according to Bijoy Kumar Kar of the Criminal Investigation Department, “his name is in the primary accused lists.”

Mayor had nothing to do with the construction or upkeep of Rana Plaza, and it is unlikely that he knew about the crack in the building. With that in mind, it seems Bangladesh authorities are unlikely to pursue charges for fear of scaring off foreign investment. He may not go to jail, but his dream of creating a socially responsible clothing label is buried beneath the rubble of the Plaza.

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