The CEO of Canada's Loblaw Inc. spoke publicly today about the building collapse in Bangladesh.
Galen Weston said he's troubled by the "deafening silence" of other retailers that were having clothes made inside the building.
He said as many as 30 international apparel brands were using factories inside but only two have come forward to speak publicly. And he called on the apparel industry to "come together" to address this issue.
One of the factories in the building was producing some items for Loblaw's Joe Fresh clothing line. British retailer Primark has also acknowledged it was using a factory.
Weston also said he was "troubled" that the factory owners sent workers back into the building after it was declared dangerous.
He said Loblaw has always made sure all of its suppliers met rigorous standards when it came to things such as local labour laws, working conditions, and ensuring that products were made in a socially responsible way.
However, those standards did not take into account building construction or integrity. From now on, Weston said Loblaw will work more closely with local authorities on that.
He said the company will now include the structural integrity of buildings in its audits of international suppliers. And he said Loblaw will have its own staff on the ground to help with the inspections of its suppliers.
"We must do a better job to enforce the safety of workers producing our products in Bangladesh and around the world," said Joe Mimran, who created the Joe Fresh brand.
He promised that any garment made for Joe Fresh will be built in a facility that respects local building codes and labour laws.
And Mimran added that the owners of other factories that make Joe Fresh clothing have already started to give the company building permits and architectural plans.
Strombo.com reached out to Kevin Thomas of the Maquila Solidarity Network, a workers rights group, for reaction to Loblaw's plans.
He said more frequent audits aren't going to solve the problem. He said if Loblaw is serious about preventing future tragedies, it needs to sign on to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Program.
"Instead of just updating voluntary guidelines and auditing more often, Loblaw and other retailers and brands should join with Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein in implementing a comprehensive Fire and Building Safety Program that trains and involves workers in monitoring hazards and gives them the right to refuse unsafe work, that is transparent, independent and accountable, and that provides real incentives for factories to clean up their act," Thomas told us.
Thomas added "The question is, will they commit to doing enough from here on in to prevent another tragedy? If today's announcement was all they have to offer, we can expect more disasters in the future."
Meantime, other big companies, such as Disney, have announced plans to leave Bangladesh. But Mimran and Weston said Loblaw/Joe Fresh have no plans to do that.
"The apparel industry can be a force for good," Weston said. "They can help lift people out of poverty in countries like Bangladesh."
"Properly inspected, well-built factories play an important role in countries like Bangladesh," Mimran said. "Recent events have shown we should be auditing for building standards, something that has never been done before."
"To pull out might start to create even more hardship for the country," Mimran said.
With respect to that, Thomas told strombo.com "with the spotlight on (Loblaw/Joe Fresh), they also need to make sure the workers they all say they're "uplifting from poverty" are receiving a real living wage."
And he called on "other companies that were sourcing from these factories must also step forward and admit their involvement in this tragedy."
Loblaw has said it's setting up a relief fund to help victims and families directly affected by the disaster, now and in the future.
"We welcome Loblaw's promise to compensate the victims, but we want to see the details of how much compensation they will provide, to whom it will go, and through what channels," Thomas told strombo.com.
"We want assurances that compensation actually gets to the families of the hundreds who died and to the thousands who were injured."
The owner of the building in had permission to build a five-storey building but he added another three floors illegally.
There were five garment factories inside. As of this writing, more than 430 people are confirmed dead and 149 are still missing.
For more, check out a couple of editorials we came across - one from Bloomberg.com entitled 'For 25 Cents, You Can Wash the Blood Off Your T-Shirt'. The other is from the New York Times entitled 'Clothed In Misery'.