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Loblaw commits financial aid to Bangladesh factory collapse victims

Loblaw Cos. Ltd. announced Thursday a plan to begin compensating victims and families of those who were killed or injured in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh six months ago.

Fulfilling a pledge made shortly after the disaster, the country’s largest grocer says it will provide direct, long-term financial aid to victims or families of victims, including three months’ wages for surviving workers, Loblaw said.

The wage payment, an undisclosed amount, “will assist in the financial needs [of workers] until long-term funds begin to flow,” a statement from the Brampton, Ont.-based supermarket giant said.

The Rana Plaza, a run-down, eight-storey factory complex in Savar, Bangladesh, imploded in April, killing more than 1,100 textile workers in one of the worst industrial accidents in modern history.

One of the facility’s tenants was New Wave Style, a garment producer contracted by the Canadian grocer to make items for its Joe Fresh clothing line.

Facing international condemnation over the accident, which brought attention to the dismal working conditions throughout the Bangladesh garment industry—a hot bed of outsourced labour for Western clothing firms in recent decades—Loblaw joined a consortium of companies with operations in the South Asian country in a broad agreement to improve working standards.

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The agreement, called the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, is a five-year, legally-binding contract between major retailers.

Read more: Are more Canadian shoppers looking to buy local?

International retailers such as Benetton and H&M, among others have agreed to routine inspections of factories as well as providing funds to upgrade facilities. Each member company will contribute $500,000 annually under the five-year agreement.

Loblaw also pledged a three-pronged strategy to lawmakers in Ottawa in May.

The plan called for direct financial assistance to injured workers and families – though Loblaw has yet to specify how much it will spend; rehabilitation efforts for injured workers, as well as a joint program with Save the Children Canada and Save the Children Bangladesh to “provide life skills and workplace support for garment industry workers and their families,” the company said.

The company said it has committed $1 million to the charities.

Humanitarian groups and labour officials suggest there’s been little to no aid for affected workers and families to date.

On Thursday, ActionAid, a South African non-profit organization, said it surveyed nearly two thirds of survivors and families of those who died in the disaste. It found that 94 per cent of those contacted hadn’t received any aid, including sick days or compensation, since the collapse.

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Read more: 6 months later, what’s changed since the Raza Plaza disaster

“Loblaw has committed to keep Canadians informed regarding our commitments made in the days following the collapse.  Although much progress has been made, there are still challenges to address and we continue to be deeply committed to delivering support to the victims and families in the most meaningful way possible,” the company said.

There are roughly four million textile workers in the South Asian country. Nearly 80 per cent are women.

Since 2005, at least 1,800 workers have been killed in the Bangladeshi garment industry in factory fires and building collapses, according to research by the advocacy group International Labor Rights Forum.

The Rana Plaza collapse came months after a fire in another garment factory in Bangladesh in November killed 112 workers.

— with files from Irene Ogrodnik and the Canadian Press

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