Oxfam Canada welcomes the decision by Loblaw Companies, owner of the Joe Fresh brand, and 30 other garment manufacturers and retailers to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to help protect workers from further disasters.
At the same time, Oxfam urges other companies from Canada, the U.S. and around the world to join those who signed onto the accord by a midnight deadline last night in response to the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Svar, Dhaka, Bangladesh last month. At least 1,100 garment workers were killed.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” said Robert Fox, Oxfam Canada executive director. “We’re calling on all brands to throw their weight behind this effort to improve health and safety conditions of garment workers in Bangladesh – and to extend this to other countries as well. The women working in these factories deserve nothing less – and consumers expect nothing less.”
Companies can still join and influence design and implementation of the accord with Bangladeshi trade union federations and IndustriaALL, the global union for the manufacturing sector. The International Labour Organization will play a role in implementation of the accord which covers more than 1,000 Bangladeshi garment factories.
The more signatories, the better
“Collaboration will be key,” said Rachel Wilshaw, Oxfam's ethical trade manager. “If we are going to change the appalling safety record in these factories, the more companies who sign up, the more effective the initiative will be. Garment workers, who are mostly women, are seriously disempowered in the Bangladesh industry.
"The most effective, sustainable way to strengthen workers' voices on health and safety committees is for the global garment union and its affiliates to lead this process. Audits of building and fire safety will only be fit for purpose with active worker involvement."
Oxfam Canada was one of 23 Canadian organizations which signed an open letter to Loblaw Companies Ltd. Executive chairman Galen Weston May 1, expressing profound sorrow and anger at the deaths and injuries that occurred and welcoming the company’s public commitment to provide compensation to the families of the victims. That letter urged the company to sign onto the joint fire and building safety program.
Oxfam Canada supports the work of the Maquila Solidarity Network. MSN describes the accord as a legally-binding program that includes independent fire and safety inspections, worker-led health and safety committees and union access to factories, commitments to underwrite improvements in dangerous factories and resolve fire safety and structural problems. Importantly, the Accord also grants workers the right to refuse dangerous work, in line with ILO Convention 155.