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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
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1A 0A2

    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.

    Yours Sincerely,
    Kenneth V. Georgetti
    President, Canadian Labour Congress

    The organizations listed below have endorsed the content of the this letter:

    Amnesty International
    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
    Oxfam Canada
    Professionals, Finance & Service Section General Workers Of Malta
    Public Service Alliance of Canada
    Public Response
    Thompson Labour Committee
    Toronto & York District Labour Council
    Unifor
    United Food and Commercial Workers of Canada
    United Steelworkers
    Vancouver District Labour Council
    Wood Buffalo District Labour Council
     

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