Canadian investors pressure companies to sign Bangladesh safety accord

A group of Canadian investors representing $44 billion in assets wants corporations to support the new Bangladesh safety accord, a broad agreement between factories, workers unions and garment companies launched after more than 1,100 workers died when a factory complex collapsed in April.

The investors—which include the public sector pension plans for such unions as the Public Service Alliance of Canada and Canadian Labour Congress—released a statement pressing for “timely and effective action to ensure respect for the fundamental human rights of workers in the supply chains of the companies in which they invest.”

“We urge apparel brands, retailers and manufacturers that source from Bangladesh to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and participate fully in its implementations,” the statement reads.

A domino effect seemed to take hold in the retail industry after the launch of the safety accord, which sees companies take on greater responsibility in maintaining safe workplaces for factory workers, and submit to oversight if they fail meet the accord’s specific demands. Loblaw, maker of the Joe Fresh brand, signed on, as did Zara, H & M, the U.K. low-cost retailer Primark and the parent company of the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands. Last week the U.S. House of Representatives voted to require that all military-branded garments made in Bangladesh comply with the accord’s standards.

But the agreement is far from earning industry-wide support: Wal-Mart and Gap Inc. were among the first to opt out, siting their own in-house safety and human rights standards. JC Penny, Target and Sears have also declined to sign the accord, and the Japanese brand Uniqlo followed suit.

But the statement from Canadian investors argues individual company policies don’t go far enough in the case of Bangladesh, in comments that suggest investors could pressure companies that haven’t signed up. “In certain cases, such as we have seen in Bangladesh, collective action is needed,” it reads. “As investors, we recognize our responsibility to promote positive change withe the companies in our portfolio and encourage them to put respect for human rights tat the core of their business models.”