Canadian retailers urged to sign Europe-led Bangladesh accord

Proponents say it is stronger than U.S. initiative

(Reuters) — A group that includes Canada's largest unions is urging Hudson's Bay Co., Canadian Tire 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 the U.S.-led Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety initiative, which many Canadian-based retailers have already endorsed.

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 group — comprised of Unifor, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and 23 other organizations — says the U.S.-led initiative is less transparent than the European accord and also excludes representation or active involvement from factory workers.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the U.S.-led Alliance said it shares the same goals as the Accord initiative, and that efforts "must be rooted in transparency, collaboration, and cooperation."

The statement, which was provided by founding member Canadian Tire, added that it worked directly with the Accord as well as the International Labour Organization and a local university last month to agree on a common criteria for inspection safety standards.

To build support for the European-led initiative, the Canadian labour groups and other organizations 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 that include 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 that include workers' rights groups.

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.

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