The April 24 collapse of the clothing factory complex in Bangladesh that killed at least 427 people (and left a further 149 still unaccounted for) has shaken the retail industry to its foundations. The number of western retailers — typically mum about their relationships with the Bangladeshi garment factories that are the source of their cheap clothes — have come forward in unprecedented force.
Among them, Galen G. Weston, executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd., who said that he and his colleagues were “deeply shaken” by the tragedy. Some of Loblaw’s Joe Fresh products were infamously revealed to be manufactured in the illegally constructed eight-storey garment factory.
More than that, Loblaw — whose vendor standards have thus far concerned themselves only with products, and not the buildings in which they’re made — has established a relief fund for the victims and Weston has pledged further assistance. (And frank accountability apparently pays off: Loblaw’s first-quarter earnings were surprisingly healthy and its shares are a five-and-half year high.)
Additionally, the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) has undertaken various steps to acknowledge the need for critical change this disaster has exposed. For one, the organization has banded with a nascent (and still nameless) coalition of North American retail associations (made up of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Retail Federation and Retail Industry Leaders Association) that’s working with the International Labour Organization, NGOs, various international industry associations, the Bangladeshi government, the Bangladeshi garments manufacturers’ association and local civil society organizations to devise a strategy for addressing safety standards in that country’s garment industry. The group currently represents 45,000 Canadian retailers, including department, grocery and independent players.
Additionally, the RCC surfaced from an emergency meeting convened in the first few days following the collapse with an announced intention to revise its industry guidelines for best practices. It did not release details of the amendments, saying only, “working with members in Canada and with global partners, RCC will develop an updated set of responsible trade guidelines, best practices, educational material and resources for the industry.”
Retail Council president and CEO Diane Brisebois told the media that the scene is frustrating for Canadian agencies, given their lack of influence in mandating that certain codes or regulations be followed in another country.
Still, Brisebois reports that the RCC members who reside in Bangladesh consider this tragedy a catalyst for making government authorities recognize the peril into which they’re putting their own economy if they don’t work to prevent any more.