Monday, April 23, 2018

Canada’s unions are marking the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster by urging Canadian companies to commit to protecting and promoting the human rights of textile workers.

On April 24, 2013, over one thousand garment workers were killed or injured when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed. Investigations showed that working conditions in the building did not meet safety standards. The tragedy highlighted the human rights abuses and substandard conditions that continue to plague the textile industry.

“Canadian companies have a responsibility to ensure that the products they produce are made ethically,” said Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). “Canadians do not want to compromise the safety and dignity of workers in exchange for a cheap t-shirt. That’s not who we are.”

Basic human rights

Canadian unions are advocating that workers in Bangladesh, and anywhere along a supply chain, are:

  • Treated fairly and with respect at work;
  • Paid a living wage;
  • Able to exercise their rights to form unions and bargain collectively;
  • Working in safe factories.

Soon after the tragedy, dozens of companies operating in Bangladesh signed a five-year legally binding agreement called the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The agreement has been renewed for three more years and aims to ensure that factories are inspected regularly and that minimum safety standards are maintained. It also protects the rights of workers to organize.

Corporate accountability

The CLC calls on the Canadian corporations operating in Bangladesh to sign the Accord. There are over 140 signatories from around the world, including Canadian owned Loblaws. The full list can be found here.

More recently, Canada’s federal government announced it will appoint an ombudsperson to ensure Canadian corporations respect their human rights obligations abroad. 

“Canada can and must be a champion of all workers. That requires making sure that our corporations are held to account for any human rights abuses,” said Yussuff.

Taking action

Several CLC affiliates will be holding events this Monday, April 23 to encourage Canadian companies including Walmart and the Canadian Tire owned stores of Mark’s, Sports Experts, and Sport Chek to commit to transparency about their supply chains.

Canadians who want to participate should visit the United Steelworkers (USW) campaign page here and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) here.

Supporting workers

Since 2016, the CLC and several affiliates have been supporting the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity in its effort to strengthen labour rights in Bangladesh's ready-made garment sector. The project is supported by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), UFCW, Ontario Secondary School Teacher Federation (OSSTF) and USW. It runs until 2019.

The CLC is also a member of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, along with over 30 other unions and human rights, environmental, faith-based and solidarity groups. Union members of the coalition include CUPE, Unifor, USW, PSAC and the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF).