Canada joins global effort
Canada's federal government has kicked in funding for an international effort to boost worker safety in Bangladesh clothing factories, which manufacture products for many Canadian retailers.
Canada's $8-million over four years, announced on Thursday, will help the International Labour Organisation (ILO) offer technical support to Bangladesh's government to inspect its factories in response to the collapse of Rana Plaza earlier this year.
The funding is coming from Canada, the UK and the Netherlands. Ottawa said in a statement on Thursday that improving working conditions in Bangladesh is an “imperative,” although one with “complex and serious challenges.”
Who will pay for any needed improvements at many of the factories is unclear.
Canadian retailers continue to be divided on a response to calls for higher safety standards. Loblaw has signed on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, developed by Bangladeshi and international labour groups, which some watchdogs say is the most stringent effort to improve conditions. The accord includes transparent reporting of inspections and a requirement that retailers help pay to keep factories safe.
Other chains, including the Hudson's Bay Corporation, Canadian Tire, Walmart Canada and Giant Tiger, have joined the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, put together by an international coalition retailers. Critics say that is the weaker agreement.
In a statement, the Canadian government said it favours neither the accord nor the alliance, and stopped short of calling on companies to adopt either. Canada “encourages and expects Canadian companies working abroad to respect all applicable laws and international standards,” the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development department said.
Many factories, however, are not part of the accord or the alliance -- and the ILO and the Bangladesh government have signalled that this group will be the focus of initial inspections, said Scott Nova, executive director of the Washington-based Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labour rights monitoring group.
Many of those factories produce “for less well-known brands, who may be brands that therefore feel less public pressure, which might mean some of those factories might be particularly high-risk,” he said. And there is no indication who will finance renovations in those other factories.