Do Justice, love mercy, walk humbly. These words from the prophet came to mind in a powerful way as we watched the documentary: Rana Plaza – The Deadly Cost of Fashion. More than 1,100 workers died and about 2,500 were injured on April 24, 2013, when the eight-storey Dhaka-area building collapsed, the worst garment industry accident in history. Danforth Mennonite Church co-hosted this event with our local MP Matthew Kellway who had gone to Bangladesh with a group of people (including a local film producer) last year to gain a better sense of what we can do collectively to raise awareness and support initiatives that seek to improve safety and working conditions for garment workers.
One action that our Rana Plaza Response Committee has taken was to produce a letter which documents this issue and provides links to other important information. Our intent is to encourage one another to think carefully as we purchase items for our own use or to give as gifts, about the source of these items and the lives and safety of those who produce them. Thank you for taking time to read and reflect on what we can do to support economies and advocate for safe working environments.
Letter to Danforth Mennonite Church regarding a response to the November 2nd Rana Plaza Adult Class Study/Discussion and the ‘Rana Plaza: Victims of Fashion’ documentary
Members of the organizing committee responsible for the DMC November 2 information sessions on the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh have decided, on the basis of the material presented, to share some information that we hope will be helpful to members of Danforth Mennonite Church. We invite you to consider these facts when you make your decisions regarding this season’s shopping. We also invite you to include ‘Fair Trade’ products in your shopping decisions such as those sold at Ten Thousand Villages for example.
Some links to internet articles listed at the end of this letter provide useful background information. A two page summary of these links is available upon request.
Brad Loewen whose letter was read at our November 2nd sessions is the ‘Chief Safety Inspector’ for ‘The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’ (‘Accord’). In his letter he reflects the complexity of the situation …”I encourage you to be informed and use your conscience. Expect to be wrong but keep trying to be right.”
The ‘Accord’ which was signed largely by European retailers and international NGO’s “is a binding, legally enforceable contract to which worker representatives, who have a strong interest in enforcement, are signatories. Under the ‘Accord’, worker representatives have the power to initiate enforcement proceedings against companies that fail to comply with their obligations.” The ‘Accord’ is supported by the UN Secretary General, the International Labour Organization (ILO), in addition to the Bangladeshi Government, the European Parliament and numerous organizations representing garment workers in Bangladesh.” See Link #4
On the other hand, a number of North American companies refused to sign the ‘Accord’ and instead created their own ‘Alliance for Bangladeshi Worker Safety’ (‘Alliance’). Globaldiligence.com states that “the ‘Alliance’ has been endorsed by profit driven apparel industry groups, such as the National Retail Federation, the American Apparel and Footwear Association and the Retail Council of Canada …” and …“the ‘Alliance’ imposes few unenforceable obligations on its members. There are no major implications for a company that walks away from the agreement.” See Link #4
As of April, 2014, among Canadian retailers who purchase ‘apparel products’ from Bangladeshi factories, the only Canadian company that has signed onto the legally binding ‘Accord’ is Loblaw (Joe Fresh brand).
Also as of April, 2014, among the Canadian retailers who purchase ‘apparel products’ from Bangladeshi factories who signed onto the legally non-binding ‘Alliance’ are:
Canadian Tire (including Mark’s Work WearHouse and Sport Chek), Target Canada, The Children’s Place, Hudson’s Bay Company, Walmart, Gap, Sears Canada and YM Inc., which owns shopping mall staples such as Bluenotes, Suzy Shier, Urban Planet, Sirens & Stitches.
According to current published information, Loblaw is the only Canadian company to have made a contribution of $3.7 million to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, which currently sits at about half its $40 million target. The purpose of this fund is to compensate the victims and families of the Rana Plaza tragedy.