Loblaw vows to inspect building safety of overseas factories
Loblaw executives are vowing that audits of working conditions at the factories that manufacture their products will now include inspections of the factory buildings themselves.
Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston and Joe Fresh founder Joe Mimran made the promise Thursday at a news conference in Toronto ahead of the company's annual general meeting.
They said that while the company has always conducted regular inspections of the working conditions at their overseas suppliers, the scope of those audits have never included the structural integrity of the buildings.
The pair promised that would change, and that Loblaw would have its own staff on the ground to monitor the inspections.
Last week, an eight-storey building that housed one of the companies manufacturing some of the Joe Fresh clothing line on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed. More than 430 workers have been confirmed dead and police report that 149 people are still missing inside. The disaster is considered the worst ever for Bangladesh's $20-billion-a-year garment industry.
Mimran, who is also the creative director of the Joe Fresh line, said including inspections of factory buildings was a small first step in improving worker safety, but would take the industry “in the right direction.”
“We must do a much better job of ensuring the safety of workers producing our products in Bangladesh and around the world,” Mimran said.
Loblaw has already announced the creation of a fund to provide relief to families of the victims, though details on how that fund will be distributed aren’t clear.
Weston said Thursday he was “shaken” by the disaster and, in particular, by the reports that work continued in the factories even after huge cracks appeared in the building walls, prompting an evacuation order.
The owner of the building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, has since been arrested and is expected to be charged with negligence, illegal construction and forcing workers to join work.
Weston said Loblaw was committed to doing more for worker safety. “This was a senseless tragedy that should not have happened.”
He added, though, that pulling out of Bangladesh was not the answer.
“As the front edge of the wedge in global trade, the apparel industry can be a force for good,” he said. “Properly inspected, well-built factories can help lift people out of poverty in countries such as Bangladesh.”
Weston noted that 20 years ago, the apparel industry came together to address the issue of child labour.
“Since then, tremendous progress has been made. Now, the apparel industry must come together again and fundamentally address the issue of worker safety.”
Weston also remarked that he's troubled by the "deafening silence" of other retailers that used the factory.
"As many as 30 international apparel brands were having goods manufactured in this building, yet only two have come forward to speak publicly," Weston said.
Primark is the other brand to come forward. It's a British chain controlled by the Weston family. Among the other garment makers in the building were Phantom Apparels, Phantom Tac, Ether Tex, New Wave Style and New Wave Bottoms.
About 3.6 million people, most of them women, work in Bangladesh's apparel industry, which is the world's second-largest garment exporter after China.