The unequal impact of COVID-19 in the global apparel industry - Part. II: Strategies of rebalancing – By Mercedes Hering

Editor’s note: Mercedes is a recent graduate of the LL.B. dual-degree programme English and German Law, which is taught jointly by University College London (UCL) and the University of Cologne. She will sit the German state exam in early 2022. In September 2020 she joined the Asser Institute as a research intern for the Doing Business Right project.

My previous blog post depicted how economic asymmetry of power translates into imbalanced contractual relationships. At the moment, supply chain contracts ensure that value is extracted while precarity is outsourced. In other words, supply chains can be described as ‘global poverty chains’. In this blog post, I will present and assess four potential way to alleviate this asymmetry and to better protect the right of the poorest garment workers in the context of the Covid-19 the pandemic. More...

The unequal impact of COVID-19 in the global apparel industry - Part I: The contractual roots - By Mercedes Hering

Editor’s note: Mercedes is a recent graduate of the LL.B. dual-degree programme English and German Law, which is taught jointly by University College London (UCL) and the University of Cologne. She will sit the German state exam in early 2022. In September 2020 she joined the Asser Institute as a research intern for the Doing Business Right project.


The Covid-19 pandemic is straining global supply chains and exposes the inequality that underlies them. As many countries entered lockdowns, the economy was brought to a rapid halt. This caused demand for apparel goods to plummet. Global apparel brands, in turn, have begun to disengage from business relationships with their suppliers. Lead firms cancelled or even breached their contracts with suppliers (often relying on force majeure or hardship), suspended, amended or postponed orders already made. This practice had a devastating effect on suppliers.

This situation again shows that the contractual structure of global supply chains is tilted towards (often) European or North American lead firms. In this blog, I will first outline the power imbalance embedded in global supply chain contracts. Secondly, I will outline how order cancellations impact suppliers and their workers. In Part II, I will go through four approaches to mitigate the distress of suppliers and their workers and to allow the parties to reach solutions which take into account their seemingly antagonistic interests. More...

The Rise of Human Rights Due Diligence (Part III): A Deep Dive into Adidas’ Practices - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.


The tragic collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013, which killed over one thousand workers and injured more than two thousand, brought global attention to the potential human rights risks and impacts that are inherent to the garment and footwear sector.[1] This sector employs millions of workers within its supply chain in order to enable large-scale production of goods as quickly as possible at the lowest cost as market trends and consumer preferences change.[2] These workers are often present in countries where the respect for human rights and labour rights is weak. This creates an environment that is conducive to human rights abuses. Key risks in this sector include child labour, sexual harassment and gender-based violence, forced labour, non-compliance with minimum wage laws and excessive work hours.[3] Accordingly, brands such as Adidas face the challenge of conducting effective human rights due diligence (HRDD), particularly in their supply chains. 

This third blog of a series of articles dedicated to HRDD is a case study looking at how HRDD has materialised in practice within Adidas’ supply chains. It will be followed by another case study examining the steps taken by Unilever in order to operationalise the concept of HRDD. To wrap up the series, a final piece will reflect on the effectiveness of the turn to HRDD to strengthen respect of human rights by businesses. More...

Five Years Later: Evaluating the French and Dutch responses to Rana Plaza - By Abdurrahman Erol

Editor’s note: Abdurrahman is currently working for Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute as an intern. He received his LL.M. International and European Law from Tilburg University and currently he is a Research Master student at the same university.


The collapse of the Rana Plaza attracted public attention from various parts of the world. As a result, the demand to ensure that businesses do not contribute to or commit human rights violations, particularly multinational enterprises (MNEs) which can easily engage in forum shopping between states with lax regulations, started to make itself heard. This increased public interest drove national governments to start addressing this issue in an attempt to prevent MNEs from getting involved in human rights abuses along their supply chains.  In this respect, to deal with the human rights abuses committed by MNEs in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector and beyond, numerous transnational and national initiatives have emerged in different forms since the Rana Plaza disaster. These initiatives include agreements (e.g. the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety)  with binding commitments, traditional voluntary CSR-based multi-stakeholder initiatives (e.g. the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety), domestic legal (e.g. the UK Modern Slavery Act and the French law on the duty of vigilance), administrative measures (e.g. the reform of the Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments in Bangladesh for better factory and labour inspections) or agreements between governmental bodies, businesses and some other stakeholders (e.g. the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles and the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garment and Textile).

These concerted efforts, to ensure responsible business conduct show an extreme variety in terms of their scope, approaches and parties involved.  In particular, the French law on the duty of vigilance and the Dutch agreement on sustainable garment will be the focus on this blog since while the adoption of the former was accelerated by the disaster, the latter was an indirect response to it. It is crucial to scrutinise the implementation of these initiatives and whether or not they positively transform the business-as-usual in the RMG sector. In this blog, after brief explanations of the French and Dutch initiatives, some of the concerns and problems, which may be encountered in their implementation process, will be presented. More...

Five Years Later: What have we learned from the Rana Plaza disaster?

Five years ago, the Rana Plaza building collapsed, taking with it at least 1134 innocent lives and injuring more than 2000 others. This industrial tragedy of incomparable scale constitutes a milestone in the business and human rights discussion. There will always be a 'before' and an 'after' Rana Plaza. Its aftershock triggered potentially seismic changes in the regulation of transnational corporations, such as the much-discussed French law on the ‘devoir de vigilance’. It is, therefore, essential to scrutinize with great care the aftermath of the tragedy: the innovations it triggered in the transnational regulation of the garment supply chain, the different processes initiated to compensate the victims, and in general the various hard and soft, private and public, legal and non-legal initiatives stemming from the urge to tackle a fundamental injustice. Thus, in the days to come we will feature a series of blogs on Rana Plaza and its consequences prepared by our outstanding interns: Raam Dutia and Abdurrahman Erol.More...

Background paper - Rana Plaza: Legal and regulatory responses - By Raam Dutia & Abdurrahman Erol

Editor’s note: You will find attached to this blog the background paper to the event Five Years Later: Rana Plaza and the Pursuit of a Responsible Garment Supply Chain hosted by the Asser Institute in The Hague on 12 April. 

Background paper: executive summary

Raam Dutia & Abdurrahman Erol (Asser Institute)

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building on 24 April 2013 in Savar, Bangladesh, left at least 1,134 people dead and over 2,500 others wounded, while survivors and the families of the dead continue to suffer trauma in the aftermath of the disaster. The tragedy triggered a wave of compassion and widespread feelings of guilt throughout the world as consumers, policy makers and some of the most well-known companies in Europe and North America were confronted with the mistreatment and abject danger that distant workers face in service of a cheaper wardrobe.

Partly in order to assuage this guilt, a number of public and private regulatory initiatives and legal responses have been instituted at the national, international and transnational levels. These legal and regulatory responses have variously aimed to provide compensation and redress to victims as well as to improve the working conditions of garment workers in Bangladesh. Mapping and reviewing how these responses operate in practice is essential to assessing whether they have been successful in remedying (at least partially) the shortcomings that led to the deaths of so many and the injury and loss suffered by scores more.

This briefing paper outlines and provides some critical reflections on the steps taken to provide redress and remedy for the harm suffered by the victims of the catastrophe and on the regulatory mechanisms introduced to prevent its recurrence. It broadly traces the structure of the panels of the event. 

In line with Panel 1 (Seeking Justice, Locating Responsibility), the paper begins by focusing on litigation that has been conducted to secure justice and compensation for the victims, as well as to bring the relevant actors to account for their alleged culpability for the collapse. To this end, the paper examines the avenues that have been taken to hold corporations legally accountable in their home jurisdictions for their putative contributions to the collapse on the one hand, and individuals (particularly local actors) legally accountable before the courts in Bangladesh on the other; it then considers softer mechanisms aimed at compensating victims and their dependants. 

In keeping with Panel 2 (Never again! Multi-level regulation of the garment supply chain after Rana Plaza: Transnational Responses), the paper then considers the transnational (public and private) regulatory responses following the tragedy, enacted by stakeholders including NGOs, industry associations, trade unions and governments and largely connected to issues surrounding labour standards and health and safety.

Finally, in line with Panel 3 (Never again! Multi-level regulation of the garment supply chain after Rana Plaza: National Responses), the paper looks at numerous (soft and hard) regulatory developments at the national level in response to the Rana Plaza collapse. It charts the legislative response by the government of Bangladesh to attempt to shore up safety, working conditions and labour rights in garment factories. It also focuses on legislative and other arrangements instituted by certain national governments in the EU, and how these arrangements relate to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises.

Download the full paper: RanaPlazaBackgroundPaper.pdf (3.5MB)

International Arbitration of Business and Human Rights Disputes: Part 3 - Case study of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’s binding arbitration process - By Catherine Dunmore

Editor's Note: Catherine Dunmore is an experienced international lawyer who practised international arbitration for multinational law firms in London and Paris. She recently received her LL.M. from the University of Toronto and her main fields of interest include international criminal law and human rights. Since October 2017, she is part of the team of the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute.


At the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights from 27-29 November 2017 in Geneva, discussions focused on the central theme of Realizing Access to Effective Remedy. With an increasing focus on this third pillar of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, a working group of international law, human rights and conflict management specialists (Claes Cronstedt, Jan Eijsbouts, Adrienne Margolis, Steven Ratner, Martijn Scheltema and Robert C. Thompson) has spent several years exploring the use of arbitration to resolve business and human rights disputes. This culminated in the publication on 13 February 2017 of a proposal for International Business and Human Rights Arbitration. On 17 August 2017, a follow-up Questions and Answers document was published by the working group to address the principal questions raised about the proposal during the three-year consultation with stakeholders. Now, a drafting team is being assembled, chaired by Bruno Simma, to prepare a set of rules designed specifically for international business and human rights arbitration (the Hague International Business and Human Rights Arbitration Rules) in consultation with a wide range of business and human rights stakeholders. Once drafted, the rules will be offered to the Permanent Court of Arbitration and other international arbitration institutions and could be used in arbitration proceedings managed by parties on an ad hoc basis.


Part 1 of this three-part blog series gave an overview introduction to the proposal for international business and human rights arbitration. Part 2 focused on the potential advantages of using international arbitration to resolve such disputes, as well as the substantial challenges the proposal will face in practice. This Part 3 now provides a case study of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’s binding arbitration process. More particularly, it will provide (1) a brief background to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, as well as (2) an analysis of its binding arbitration process, before (3) discussing the arbitrations brought by IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union against two global fashion brands under the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. More...

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – October 2017. By Catherine Dunmore

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on transnational business regulation based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @DoinBizRight. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. More...

Doing Business Right Event! Supply chain regulation in the garment industry on 29 June @Asser Institute

The negative impact on human rights of what we wear is not always well-known to the consumer. Our clothing consumption has increased over five times since the Nineties. At the same time, the business model of certain fashion brands is too often dependent on widespread human rights and labour rights violations to be profitable, cheap, and fast. The 2013 tragedy of Rana Plaza, where more than 1100 garment workers died, gives us just a small hint of the true costs of our clothes and footwear. Efforts by governments to tame the negative effects of transnational supply chains have proven difficult due to the extreme delocalisation of production, and the difficulty to even be aware of a company’s last tier of suppliers in certain developing countries. More...