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New Report Links Canadian Retailers to Never-Ending Hardships of Bangladeshi Garment Workers

TORONTO – A report released today by the Steelworkers Humanity Fund establishes for the first time a clear connection between Canadian retailers and specific garment factories in Bangladesh that trap workers – primarily women – in lives of poverty and never-ending struggle.

The report, Not Even the Bare Minimum, calls on Canadian retailers and brands to finally commit to paying living wages and ensure other vital supports to impoverished workers in their global supply chains.

The report links Canadian retailers like Joe Fresh, Lululemon, Mark’s and others to specific poverty-wage garment factories in Bangladesh.

“Canadian brands have been largely silent on their responsibility to respect the human right of workers to decent work throughout their supply chains,” said Ken Neumann, President of the Steelworkers Humanity Fund and National Director of the United Steelworkers union (USW).

“It is time for Canadian brands to publicly acknowledge that they have a responsibility for workers employed in their supply chains and to make credible commitments to paying living wages not only in Bangladesh, but throughout their global supply chains,” Neumann said.

The Steelworkers Humanity Fund, a registered charity funded through USW members’ contributions, commissioned a researcher in Bangladesh to interview garment workers and to examine their working conditions. Bangladeshi factories supplying Canadian brands were identified through public disclosure by brands themselves and by tracing shipments through data available from a commercial importation database.

Women employed in Bangladeshi garment factories supplying Canadian brands earn only $6 to $7 a day. The report includes extensive testimony from these women demonstrating how they are trapped in a cycle of poverty and precarity, no matter how long and hard they work.

“You work and you work, six days a week, 12- to 15-hour shifts, thinking your luck will change. Thirty years and I still constantly worry about when I will get my next paycheque, whether I will have enough money this month,” said a worker from Standard Stitches, a factory producing for Mark’s.

“When I see the children’s faces when I serve them the food, my heart breaks. I am working as hard as I can, but what’s the point if I can’t even feed them properly?” said a woman working at YoungOne (CEPZ) Ltd., a factory supplying Lululemon.

There is a desperate need for Canadian retailers and brands to defend workers in their supply chains who face constant “anti-union tactics and rights violations,” said Kalpona Akter, internationally renowned advocate for Bangladeshi garment workers.

“Every day we are confronted by the desperation, heartbreak, anger, as well as courage of workers trapped in poverty,” said Akter, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity and president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation.

“Canadian companies have a responsibility to workers in their supply chain to pay living wages, respect workers’ rights, and to cushion the impact of COVID-19 and make sure workers and their families survive.”

In addition to a commitment to paying living wages, the report calls on Canadian retailers and brands to contribute to a severance guarantee fund to support garment workers affected by pandemic-related factory closures.

Neumann said that the union sees the struggle of garment workers in Bangladesh as closely identified with the struggles that workers face here in Canada. USW members in many industries face the same power dynamics that push down rights and wages and the same struggle for gender equity and safe workplaces. “Workers’ rights around the world are interconnected; we must never ignore that,” said Neumann.

The full report, Not Even the Bare Minimum, can be viewed here. The USW has also launched a new campaign in tandem, Justice for Global Garment Workers, calling on Canadian brands to make public commitments to living wages and better working conditions.

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For further information:

Ken Neumann, President, Steelworkers Humanity Fund, 416-544-5951
Doug Olthuis, Executive Director, Steelworkers Humanity Fund, 416-859-9953, dolthuis@usw.ca
Shannon Devine, USW Communications, 416-894-7118 (cell), sdevine@usw.ca

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