By Alastair Sharp and Solarina Ho
TORONTO May 2 Loblaw Cos Ltd, Canada's
largest grocer, will continue to produce clothing in Bangladesh
after a deadly textile factory collapse on April 24, but
promised to improve the facilities it uses there, Executive
Chairman Galen Weston said on Thursday.
"I am deeply troubled. I am troubled that despite a clear
commitment to the highest standards of ethical sourcing, our
company can still be part of such an unspeakable tragedy,"
Weston told reporters ahead of an annual meeting of Loblaw, the
company behind the discount clothing brand, Joe Fresh.
More than 400 factory workers were killed after an illegally
built building, Rana Plaza, which housed several garment
factories, collapsed last week in Savar, a commercial suburb of
Some of Loblaw's Joe Fresh apparel was made in Rana Plaza.
Ahead of the building's collapse, Walt Disney Co
said in March it would no longer allow its branded products to
be made in five countries, including Bangladesh, in an effort to
ensure production in safe conditions.
Loblaw said it would remain in Bangladesh because well-run
factories can help lift people out of poverty in developing
countries. The company said it currently produces in 47
facilities in Bangladesh.
"I believe we can do more good and drive lasting change by
staying in Bangladesh, and we are committed to doing that," said
Joe Mimran, the designer behind the popular Joe Fresh brand.
Loblaw promised to start a relief fund for victims and their
families and said it expected other apparel manufacturers to
contribute to the fund.
The company will add "building integrity" into its audits of
contractor facilities and put Loblaw workers on the ground to
ensure local building codes are adhered to, and that suitable
conditions are maintained.
Loblaw said four senior executives would travel to
Bangladesh next week to meet with government and labor
PUSHED FOR MORE
Weston repeated his contrite message to shareholders at the
meeting, even as company representatives made a concerted effort
to keep reporters from speaking with investors, saying they
didn't want to be bothered.
Still, Brenda Mallouk, a university professor who owns some
Loblaw shares, expressed disappointment at the company's failure
to address broader aspects of the outsourced apparel trade.
"Notice that they are not even talking about conditions
under which they work. It's just the building structure they're
talking about, not the fact that they're all piled into one
room. They're not even talking about the hours," she said.
"I'd like to know what's going on behind the curtains. This
is the right thing to say, but are they saying and not doing?"
Anti-poverty groups urged companies using cheap workers in
developing countries to look beyond unsafe buildings.
"Canadian companies can start with building codes, but must
also look at other human rights issues including wages, health
and the exploitation of children," said Dave Toycen, who heads
World Vision Canada.
Weston, whose father was ranked as Canada's second-richest
man by Canadian Business magazine, said he was troubled by the
"deafening silence" of other apparel retailers. He noted that as
many as thirty international apparel brands had goods
manufactured in the building.
Loblaw shares were up 4 percent at C$46.55 in afternoon
trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.