Loblaw has said that it will provide compensation for the families of victims who worked at the Bangladeshi garment factory that collapsed last Wednesday leaving more than 380 people dead and hundreds missing.
The company, whose Joe Fresh clothing line was produced in the factory, said that it aims to ensure that victims and their families "receive benefits now and in the future."
Spokeswoman Julija Hunter said the company is still working out the details, but plans to deliver support "in the best and most meaningful way possible."
The death toll from the disaster has risen to at least 382 — and is expected to continue rising as crews dig deeper into the rubble.
Retailers hold urgent meeting
Loblaw was one of several Canadian retailers that met today with the Retail Council of Canada to talk about working conditions in Third World sweatshops.
Organizers of the emergency meeting said it would be private and closed to the media, but that they plan to make comments tomorrow morning.
Loblaw and Sears Canada had confirmed that they would be taking part in the meeting. Wal-Mart Canada and Reitman, both members of the Retail Council of Canada, are also believed to have been in attendance.
'These are the companies that really have the power to say 'You're not gonna get our business unless you do things correctly.' —Tandy Thomas, Queen's University marketing professor
Loblaw is the only Canadian company that has publicly admitted to carrying items made in the collapsed factory, which a garment manufacturers' group says employed 3,122 workers.
About 2,500 survivors have been accounted for.
The company had earlier expressed condolences to those affected by the tragedy, and said it was working with other clothing retailers to provide aid and resources to the neighbourhood of Savar, outside Dhaka, where the collapse took place.
Senior Loblaw representatives were also headed to Bangladesh to meet with local officials to discuss what may have caused the collapse, the company said Friday.
"We are committed to finding an approach that ensures safe working conditions, drives lasting change in the industry and [helps prevent] other tragedies," the company said in a press release.
Other companies whose apparel was made at the factory are also taking action in the wake of the collapse. On Monday, major U.K. retailer Primark announced that it would offer compensation and emergency food aid to victims.
Queen's University marketing professor Tandy Thomas said retailers such as Loblaw and Primark must take the lead in making sure that working conditions in developing regions are up to a certain standard.
"These are the companies that really have the power to say 'You're not gonna get our business unless you do things correctly,'" Thomas said. "And the evidence has shown that that kind of pressure tends to bring about a faster response than waiting for local governments to institute change."
Shoppers speak out
The deadly collapse has renewed concerns about the conditions of workers who make clothing for some of the biggest brands in the world.
At the Eaton Centre shopping mall in downtown Toronto, some shoppers said they were now more conscious of the products they buy.
One man said that he discussed the Bangladesh collapse with his wife and daughter over the weekend, and they talked about what they could do as consumers when it comes to Third World labour conditions.
"There are a lot of questions around how did this happen, what part did we play, what part did the manufacturers play — or the retailers? Do we want them to do extra due diligence?" he said. "And we came to the conclusion that, yeah, we kinda do."
A female shopper said that she began making more ethical choices as a consumer three years ago, when her friend described witnessing labour conditions in Thailand.
Garment workers in the shattered building in Bangladesh are said to have been paid only $38 a month.
"At first it was [difficult], but I think it helps when you know someone or see first-hand or hear first-hand experiences. Then it just sheds a different light on it," she said. "When I see something made in Bangladesh or made in India, I put it down or I think twice."
Another male shopper, who is originally from Bangladesh, blamed last week's collapse on the building owner, who is now in police custody and could face up to seven years in prison. But he added that retailers also have a responsibility to work only with manufacturers that ensure good working conditions.
"Visit the factory. If everything's proper, then go for the order. Not before that," he said.