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Bangladesh Factory Collapse Reminds Us Talk, Like Some Clothing, Is Cheap - Doug O’Halloran, President, UFCW Local 401
Montreal – May 8, 2014 – UFCW Canada National President Paul Meinema joined representatives from Bangladeshi and international unions and various non-profit organizations at the 27th Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) Convention to discuss the labour movement's critical role in prompting corporate accountability for garment worker safety in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse last spring.
Just over a year ago, the devastating Rana Plaza factory collapse killed 1,135 garment workers and injured another 2,500 in the Greater Dhaka Area of Bangladesh. The tragedy placed a spotlight on the world of supply chain management in the garment sector, specifically the failure of retailers in Canada and around the world to ensure safe working conditions and respect employee rights in their factories.
In the aftermath of the disaster, Loblaw and Joe Fresh joined more than 150 companies in signing the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety – a binding agreement that obligates companies to enact recommendations from mandatory health and safety inspections conducted by workers.
Presenting as an expert panelist at the CLC forum, President Meinema spoke about his findings from a recent mission to Bangladesh, where he met with trade unionists, health and safety experts, and survivors of the Rana Plaza tragedy to express solidarity with the building collapse victims and demand better health and safety protections for textile workers everywhere.
"Imagine the shock that our members working in Loblaw-Joe Fresh stores felt when they realized that some of Joe Fresh's merchandise was made by the victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy," President Meinema told the panel participants. "Rana Plaza collapsed because retailers like Walmart drive down costs to unsustainable levels, and workers' safety suffers as a result."
To date, Walmart, Target, and a handful of other North American corporations have refused to sign the Bangladesh Accord. That's why, on the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, President Meinema joined with trade unionists from Bangladesh and Canada in the streets of Dhaka to demand that Walmart and other companies respect workers' rights by signing the Accord.
Brother Meinema also presented recommendations from his Bangladesh mission to the CLC panelists, which include building a strong labour movement in Bangladesh, pressuring retailers and government to ensure safe working conditions, informing the public about which brands have and have not signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, and supporting workers and activist organizations in Bangladesh going forward.
"I want to thank the Bangladeshi citizens who welcomed us with open arms during our visit to the country,” Meinema said at the panel discussion. "The courage that they demonstrated after suffering through such great tragedy was humbling and inspiring, and something that I will never forget," he added.