Over a week after multiple parties found condemning evidence, the Italian clothing company Benetton admits that it bought clothes from the garment factory in Bangladesh that recently collapsed and killed over 800 people. After the company had danced around the question for days, Benetton chief executive Biagio Chiarolanza confirmed to The Huffington Post on Wednesday evening that he was, by proxy, still doing business with New Wave Style, one of several companies operating in the faulty factory. "The New Wave company, at the time of the tragic disaster, was not one of our suppliers, but one of our direct Indian suppliers had subcontracted two orders," he said. This quote contrasts starkly with Benetton's original statement on the matter: "None of the companies involved are suppliers to Benetton Group or any of its brands."
Awful, right? Never buying United Colors of Benetton sweaters ever again, right? Benetton's the worst, right? But to be perfectly honest, this whole thing is such a twisted tragedy that it's hard to figure out who should shoulder the blame. Once it was ready to admit that some of the now dead workers might've been making its clothes, Benetton admitted that its supply chain — a labyrinth of contractors and subcontractors that includes 700 manufacturers across 120 countries — was so complex that the company didn't really know where its clothes were coming from.
It didn't take long for those on the ground to figure it out, though. That condemning evidence that eventually led to Chiarolanza's confession included everything from paper records to Benetton tags sewn into clothing. And even though Benetton has a system of conduct codes and safety regulations, it's hard to see how they'd be effective if the company doesn't even realize which sewing machines are actually assembling its clothes. The way that a company like Benetton — or Spanish apparel retailer Mango or Swedish fashion house H&M or others whose clothes were also found in the rubble — distances itself from the factories that do the dirty work actually serves as a pretty handy defense when a tragedy like this strikes. Benetton didn't do anything wrong, the CEO seems to say. The company hired by the company that Benetton hired did something wrong, and the ethical goons in corporate had no idea anything was wrong.
It's sad, because these garment factory disasters aren't just continuing to take place. They're getting worse. Last November, we saw a fire at a Bangladeshi factory claim the lives of 112 workers only to listen to big corporations like Wal-Mart pass the buck to its suppliers. Then and now, the executives said that something must be done, that this sort of thing should never happen again. Then why does it keep happening. Why do we have to look at photos of lovers, frozen by death in a final embrace, just so we can wear our $10 T-shirts?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.