Letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper regarding Canadian companies and factory safety in Bangladesh
On the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, Amnesty International endorsed this letter from the Canadian Labour Congress to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The letter urges the Canadian Government to take action to get Canadian companies to sign onto an Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. It further calls upon the Government of Canada to replace the office of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor with an independent ombudsperson, and provide legal standing for foreign nationals harmed by the operations of Canadian companies to seek redress in Canada’s courts.
April 23, 2014
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Dear Prime Minister:
Re: The 2013 Bangladesh Factory Collapse and the Accountability of Companies in Canada
April 24 will mark the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, where over 1,100 workers killed and thousands more were injured. We urge the Canadian government to ensure that companies in Canada sign onto the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, and request that Canada uses its authority, purchasing power, regulatory powers, diplomatic efforts and trading relationships as a means of preventing future tragedies like Rana Plaza.
Despite the important $8 million commitment made by the Canadian government toward the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire and Building Safety to build the technical expertise and equipment for a preliminary assessment of 2,000 factories, there continue to be grave risks to worker health and safety in Bangladesh. Addressing the risks will require the effort of governments, working with the private sector, international organizations and trade unions.
Following the Rana Plaza tragedy more than 150 global apparel companies and trade unions are now implementing the Accord. We regard this as an important step toward improving worker safety in Bangladesh. Despite other voluntary private-sector initiatives, no other program comes close to addressing the urgent need for health and safety reform in the Bangladesh garment industry. Unfortunately, only one Canadian company has demonstrated a genuine commitment to improving working conditions in Bangladesh by signing onto the Accord.
The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) will be writing to over 130 companies in Canada asking that they sign onto the Accord. We urge you as Prime Minister to persuade Canadian companies to better ensure worker safety in their overseas supply chains.
Specifically, we ask the Government of Canada to:
• publicly endorse the Accord and urge Canadian companies to sign it without delay;
• adopt responsible purchasing policies for government procurement that require companies to ensure International Labour Organization (ILO) Core Conventions are respected by their suppliers and, if sourcing goods in Bangladesh, to be a signatory to the Accord; and
• adopt regulations requiring apparel brands and retailers to disclose the names and locations of factories used to manufacture their goods to ensure transparency and prevent poor labour practices from being hidden from consumers.
The Canadian government must play a key role in setting trade and investment rules that set a floor for corporate behaviour. Trade measures can help to bolster national inspection regimes, which are a necessary part of sustainable change in Bangladesh. The U.S. withdrawal of trade preferences for Bangladesh, for example, resulted in the anticipated hiring of 200 additional labour inspectors by the government of Bangladesh. Unless corporate accountability measures in our country are strengthened, we will continue to be complicit in tragedies such as those in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
We further ask your government to:
• replace the office of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor, which has proven ineffective thus far, with an independent ombudsperson with investigative powers that reach beyond the mining sector to include the garment industry;
• provide legal standing for foreign nationals harmed by the operations of Canadian companies to seek redress in Canada’s courts; and
• require countries to respect ILO core labour standards in order to access Canada’s General Preferential Tariff, by providing for regular reviews of country performance and including granting third parties the right to make submissions.
Finally, Canada must practice at home what it preaches abroad. Canada and Bangladesh have both ratified most of the ILO’s core labour conventions but complaints to the ILO about violations have risen steeply and mature industrial relations continue to face attacks in both countries. For example, while both Bangladesh and Canada have ratified ILO Convention 144 on Tripartite Consultations for labour standards, dialogue involving government, employer and union groups remains weak in both countries. As this Convention provides a basis for meaningful dialogue between social partners — which is indispensable in ensuring sustainable improvements in working conditions in either country — we ask that it be vigorously promoted by the government of Canada both at home and abroad.
We urge you, Prime Minister, to use Canada’s authority, purchasing power, regulatory powers, diplomatic efforts and trading relationships as a means of preventing future tragedies like Rana Plaza, starting first and foremost by publicly endorsing the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
Kenneth V. Georgetti
President, Canadian Labour Congress
The organizations listed below have endorsed the content of the this letter:
British Columbia Federation of Labour
British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union
British Columbia Teachers’ Federation
Canadian Association of University Teachers
Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions
Canadian Union of Public Employees
Confédération des syndicats nationaux
Escuela Nacional Sindical
Fédération des travailleuses et travailleurs du Québec (Quebec Federation of Labour)
Fort McMurray District Labour Council
Global Foundation for Sustainable Development and Social Harmony
Guelph District Labour Council
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
Lindsay District Labour Council
Manitoba Federation of Labour
Maquila Solidarity Network
National Union of Public and General Employees
Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Council
Northern Territories Federation of Labour
Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association
Ontario Federation of Labour
Ontario Nurse Association
Ontario Public Services Employees Union
Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario
Professionals, Finance & Service Section General Workers Of Malta
Public Service Alliance of Canada
Thompson Labour Committee
Toronto & York District Labour Council
United Food and Commercial Workers of Canada
Vancouver District Labour Council
Wood Buffalo District Labour Council