French retailer faces legal action in wake of Bangladesh disaster

LILLE, France (AFP) - Three organisations said Thursday they had filed a judicial complaint against French supermarket giant Auchan in the first such case in Europe in the wake of the deadly Bangladesh factory disaster a year ago.

Auchan says it had never placed any orders at the Rana Plaza garment factory which collapsed on April 24 last year after a catastrophic structural failure, leaving 1,000 people dead.

But the three lobby groups, in a complaint filed with a public prosecutor in France, accused Auchun of misleading customers about working conditions overseas and claim that an investigation found labels from the chain's "In Extenso" range in the rubble.

Sherpa, a non profit organisation for the "victims of economic crimes", Peuples Solidaires (People's Solidarity), and the Ethique sur l'etiquette (Ethics on Labels) collective, claim a number of witnesses - including some in Bangladesh - are available to provide evidence, and have called for the prosecutor to carry out a preliminary investigation as soon as possible.

They accuse Auchan of "misleading French consumers on working conditions in the places where its products are manufactured".

The collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza killed 1,138 workers and left more than 2,000 injured.

The tragedy, one of the world's worst garment factory disasters, highlighted poor safety and appalling working conditions at the factory.

Auchan, which operates in more than a dozen countries and had sales of over 48 billion euros (S$ 84 billion) last year, said it did not wish to comment on a complaint that it had not yet seen.

But in a statement to AFP it said: "We never sent orders to Rana Plaza and there was no direct, or indirect, link between Auchan and the businesses on the site".

The company said it had made "a number of changes" in response to the disaster, including signing an agreement with 158 international companies which aims to improve the safety of textile factory workers in Bangladesh.

It has also launched an action plan against undeclared sub-contracting.

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