Nearly four years after the Rana Plaza disaster that killed more than 1,100 people in Bangladesh, Canadian Tire and its subsidiaries, Mark’s and Sport Chek, still haven’t introduced full supply chain transparency say human rights and labour rights advocates.
Ken Neumann, the Canadian director of the United Steelworkers, travelled to Bangladesh for the one-year anniversary of the April 24, 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed roughly 1,129 people and injured more than 2,500 garment workers.
Neumann recalled how even a year later human bones and scraps of clothing could be seen among the rubble of the garment factory.
“It’s hard to comprehend,” he told Global News Thursday. “A tremendous amount of stench even though the building was completely destroyed.”
He said in many cases bodies of workers were never recovered and were buried along with concrete from the building.
“It was heart-wrenching when you come across a mother that has a photo of her daughter and tears running down her eyes,” Neumann said. “In many cases families never had closure.”
Now with the four-year anniversary of one of the world’s deadliest industrial accident approaching, the United Steelworkers launched its No More Operating in the Dark campaign Thursday urging Canadian apparel companies, specifically Canadian Tire, to fully disclose where their products are made.
WATCH: Thousands protest on an anniversary of Bangladesh Rana Plaza disaster (2015)
An international group of nine labour rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the Toronto-based Maquila Solidarity Network, also released its Follow the Thread report which asked 72 major clothing brands to agree to a Transparency Pledge – a set of standards that includes publishing the full names and addresses of the factories making their products, and an estimate of the number of workers employed in each factory.
“When there are workers rights violations you can bring them to all of those companies, all of the brands and retailers and they together can try and ensure there is corrective action,” said Bob Jeffcott, a policy analyst with the Maquila Solidarity Network. “That is the value of that level of disclosure.”
Four Canadian companies contacted for the report were: Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), Hudson’s Bay Company, Loblaw, owner of Joe Fresh, and Canadian Tire, owner of Mark’s and SportChek
The report found Mountain Equipment Co-op came close to meeting the full transparency pledge standards, while Hudson’s Bay disclosed the names and addresses of some of the facilities producing their branded products.
After Joe Fresh clothing labels were found among the ruins of Rana Plaza, Loblaw moved to disclose the names of factories and countries of the manufacturer, but not the factory addresses, according to the report.
Canadian Tire, which sells clothing brands like Denver Hayes through its Mark’s stores and sports attire at Sport Chek outlets, did not agree to publicly disclose any information on its supplier factories, the report said.
Ten apparel companies including Armani, Forever 21, and Ralph Lauren Corporation did not respond to a letter from coalition according to the report, while 15, including Canadian Tire, Foot Locker and American Eagle Outfitters made no commitment to publish supplier factory information.
Jeffcott says that since Rana Plaza collapse, many leading companies, Nike, Adidas, H&M and Patagonia have begun regularly publishing information about their supply chains.
“If you look at the power of those particular companies and the fact that they are setting this example, we feel there is momentum for this kind of disclosure.
A spokesperson for Canadian Tire said in an email the company uses third-party auditing firms to monitor factory compliance.
“Through our Supplier Code of Business Conduct we clearly outline our published standards with the vendors with whom we work around the globe,” the spokesperson said. “We were a founding member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety since its inception, demonstrating our commitment to sustainable change.”
However, Jeffcott points out the companies involved in the Rana tragedy used third party auditors and says “self-regulation and private-sector factory audits” just are not working.
“Canadian Tire has to catch up with other leaders in the industry,” he said. “The attitude of saying ‘just trust us’ isn’t good enough anymore.”