Canadian retailers urged to sign Europe-led Bangladesh accord

TORONTO Wed Dec 18, 2013 12:48pm EST

TORONTO Dec 18 (Reuters) - A coalition that includes Canada's largest unions is urging Hudson's Bay Co, Canadian Tire Corp and other Canadian-based retail companies to sign a European-led initiative to improve safety for garment workers in Bangladesh.

Proponents of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh say it is stronger than another, U.S.-led initiative, which many Canadian-based retailers have already endorsed.

Unlike the competing protocol, developed by the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, the European initiative requires clearly independent inspections of work sites, binding arbitration enforceable in court in case of a dispute, and full disclosure of all suppliers, inspection reports, and detailed quarterly reports.

More than 125 companies, many based in Europe, have already signed the accord.

The coalition - comprised of Unifor, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and 23 other organizations - say the U.S.-led initiative is less transparent than the European accord and also excludes representation or active involvement from factory workers.

To build support for the accord, the coalition sent an open letter to Hudson's Bay, Canadian Tire, Giant Tiger, Sears Canada , Walmart Canada, Y.M. Inc and the Retail Council of Canada, which are participants in the Alliance. Y.M. operates stores including Urban Planet, Bluenotes and Suzy Shier.

A spokesman for Walmart said the company was committed to improving worker safety and ethical sourcing, adding that it has already completed 200 inspections and posted the first 75 reports on its corporate website.

Hudson's Bay said the alliance's plan offered long-term commitment to safety standards in Bangladesh and was working with organizations including workers' rights groups.

The Alliance and other companies could not be immediately reached for comment.

At present, Canada's largest grocer, Loblaw Co, is the only Canadian signatory of the European-led accord.

Garments sold under Loblaw's Joe Fresh brand were manufactured at the Bangladeshi complex that collapsed in April and killed more than 1,100 workers. The grocer has pledged to pay several months of wages to the workers and families affected by the disaster.

The U.S.-led alliance's 26 signatories also include Gap , Macy's, Nordstrom, Target and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

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