TORONTO – North American workers rights groups are calling on Western brands and retailers to sign safety agreements following a deadly building collapse in Bangladesh on Wednesday.
U.S.-based Worker Rights Consortium called the Bangladesh collapse “the latest in the endless parade of senseless deaths in garment factories producing for Western brands and retailers.”
According to the rights group, labels and documents found in the wreckage along with customs records and website information suggest that Cato Fashions, Mango, Loblaws’ Joe Fresh and The Children’s Place brands had production in the building.
A Toronto-based labour and women’s rights organization said companies know there is a problem in Bangladesh, but continue to “pour orders” into the country without making an effort to fix the problem.
“I’m not so concerned if [brands like Joe Fresh] get some bad publicity out of this, I’m concerned that they do something about it once and for all,” Maquila Solidarity Network Director of Advocacy Kevin Thomas told Global News reporter Mike Drolet.
Loblaws spokesperson Julija Hunter confirmed in an email to Global News that the collapsed building included a “factory that produced a small number of Joe Fresh apparel items for Loblaws Inc.”
“Loblaws Inc. has vendor standards, which spell out the standard requirements of working with us to ensure that products are being manufactured in a socially responsible way…and ensuring fair pay and benefits and compliance with applicable health and safety regulations. We audit against these standards on a regular basis,” she wrote, adding that Loblaws will assist their vendor and support authorities in this situation.
Thomas said many companies send social auditors once a year to check that a fire extinguisher is in place, but don’t follow up when exits are blocked, or check to see if buildings are even registered to have as many stories as they have.
He is urging companies to participate in comprehensive fire and building safety programs, emphasizing that these programs do exist.
“So for example, Joe Fresh here doesn’t have to go it alone,” he said. “They can work with countless other international companies and people on the ground to fix the factories together.”
Thomas believes these safety programs can be enforced, but said consumers must demand goods be made under safe conditions – even for discount retailers.
“It’s great that they can sell their clothes at a low price, but there are some prices below which you shouldn’t go,” said Thomas.
“And that is a price that guarantees…that the workers have a basic and safe workplace that they can rely on. If you can’t guarantee that with the price you’re selling your goods at, then you’ve got to raise the price.”
The Ether Tex factory located in the building also lists Walmart as a customer, though it has not been confirmed whether Walmart had recent production in the building.
“Labor rights groups around the world have been asking, indeed imploring, major retailers to address the grievous safety hazards in their Bangladesh factories and the response is always the same: vague promises and public relations dodges, while the pile of corpses grows ever higher,” said Worker Rights Consortium Executive Director Scott Nova in a release.
Officials now say at least 87 people are dead and more are trapped in the jumbled mess of concrete and bricks that used to house the garment factories.
The eight-storey Rana Plaza building collapsed in Savar near Bangladesh’s capital of Dhakar.
The collapse stirred memories of a fatal fire at a garment factory in November that killed 112 people and raised an outcry about safety in the country’s $20-billion a year textile industry.
Bangladesh produces clothing for fashion brands worn around the world.
With files from The Associated Press