Joe Fresh vows to be 'force for good' in Bangladesh

The founder of Loblaw's discount clothing chain Joe Fresh, rocked by the factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of people, today outlined his plan to work closely with local authorities to improve work conditions.

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The founder of Loblaw's discount clothing chain Joe Fresh vowed to keep sourcing materials from Bangladesh while raising the standard for building codes there in the wake of the factory disaster that killed more than 400 people.

Galen G. Weston, executive chairman of Loblaw, and Joe Mimran, the fashion retailer who founded Loblaw's Joe Fresh line of discount fashions, addressed members of the media on Thursday to discuss the tragedy at a Bangladesh textile factory last week.

The facility supplied clothes for, among numerous other retailers, Joe Fresh.

"I'm very troubled," Weston told reporters. "I'm troubled by the deafening silence from other apparel retailers on this.

"Thirty companies were having goods manufactured, but only two have come forward to speak publicly," Weston said.

Weston said Loblaw has always ensured all facilities in its supply chain adhere to rigorous standards in areas including local labour laws and work conditions.

"Nothing in those reports suggested a problem, but the scope of the audits does not cover structural integrity," Weston said. 

Weston said he was "troubled" by practices that saw it fit to send workers back into this building after it was declared dangerous.

Joe Fresh will stay in Bangladesh

Other international firms, such as Disney, have already announced intentions to withdraw from Bangladesh. But Mimran said Joe Fresh has no plans to do that, arguing more can be done to make the apparel industry "a force for good" in the world by working with local authorities to improve conditions.

"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."

Mimran pledged that any garment made for the Joe Fresh line will be produced in a facility that respects local building codes, as well as labour laws.

"The apparel industry can be a force for good," Weston said. "They can help lift people out of poverty in countries like Bangladesh."

Similar to the reaction to child labour violations in the 1990s, Weston said "the apparel industry must come together again and fundamentally address the issue."

In addition to the 433 confirmed dead in Bangladesh, police report that 149 people are still missing in what has become the worst disaster for Bangladesh's $20 billion-a-year garment industry.

With files from The Associated Press