On April 24, more than 500 people were killed when an eight-storey building on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed. Some of the Joe Fresh brand clothing sold by Loblaw in Canada was made in that building. Joe Fresh clothing is made in 47 factories in Bangladesh. Wages in garment factories in Bangladesh range from 14 to 24 cents an hour. Last month, the Globe and Mail reported, “Loblaw’s handling of the file is critical because it is betting heavily on Joe Fresh, which generates close to $1-billion of Loblaw’s $31.6-billion of annual sales.”
Yesterday, Loblaw held its annual shareholders meeting in Toronto. The Toronto Star reports, “Canadian labour unions, including the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, have signed an open letter to (Galen Weston, executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd.), asking him to take immediate action.” The Council of Canadians also signed the letter, as did the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, KAIROS, the Maquila Solidarity Network, and Oxfam Canada.
That letter states, “We the undersigned Canadian organizations are writing to express our profound sorrow and anger at the tragic and unnecessary deaths and serious injuries suffered by hundreds of garment workers as a result of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh where Joe Fresh clothing was being manufactured for your company. …We urge you to (negotiate) with Bangladeshi trade union federations and IndustriALL (the Global Union for the manufacturing sector), … the level, form and channels of compensation for both the families of those who died and the workers who suffered injuries and the loss of employment as a result of the building collapse. We also call on your company to take immediate steps to ensure that such preventable tragedies do not occur in the future. …We also urge your company to publicly disclose all factory audit reports for your Bangladeshi supplier factories, including the findings and corrective action taken, so that consumers and civil society organizations can assess the quality of your audits and whether progress in being made to achieve safe workplaces and decent working conditions.”
The news article notes, “Weston announced Thursday that his company will send Canadian employees to monitor factories in Bangladesh where Joe Fresh clothing is made. In addition, a team of senior company officials, including supply chain experts, will travel there next week to discuss safety with Bangladeshi officials and unions. Loblaw has also set up a fund for victims and their families. Weston said a new standard has been established at Loblaw in the wake of the tragedy — all products under their brand control must be made in facilities that respect local construction and building codes.” But, “Kevin Thomas, of the Maquila Solidarity Network, said he hopes Loblaw will accept that a lot of the groundwork for reform has already been done by human rights groups and labour unions. ‘We’re at the point where we need commitments. We don’t need more study, more audits.'”
On Wednesday, Loblaw reported a 40 per cent increase in first-quarter profits. It says it earned $171 million, up from $122 million. Revenue rose to $7.2 billion from $6.94 billion.
To read the letter signed by 23 organizations, go to http://en.maquilasolidarity.org/sites/maquilasolidarity.org/files/RanaPlazaBangladesh-CanadianLetter-Loblaw-AGM-2013-05-01.pdf.