Canadian trade unions fight for Bangladeshi garment workers

Women workers in the garment trade demanding contractual rights. They are backed by the Canadian Labour Congress and USW

CANADIAN trade unions allege that workers in Bangladeshi garment factories that supply Canadian Tyre subsidiary Mark’s with clothing sold under brand names like Wind River, Denver Hayes, Dakota and Helly Hansen are paid poverty-level wages.

The unions have filed a complaint with a federal corporate watchdog saying Canadian Tyre failed to ensure workers in its South Asian supplier factories are paid a living wage.
The Canadian Labour Congress and the United Steelworkers Union (USW) filed the complaint with the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise on Monday.
Marty Warren, USW Canadian national director told a news conference: ‘The women and men employed in Bangladesh garment factories like those used by Mark’s and Canadian Tyre live in poverty.’
A United Steelworkers statement said: ‘Today the United Steelworkers union (USW) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) filed a complaint with the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) alleging that retailer Mark’s and its parent company Canadian Tyre Corporation are in contravention of international human rights standards for failing to ensure workers in its supplier factories are paid living wages.’
USW National Director for Canada, Marty Warren, said: ‘In the first part of this year, in the areas where Mark’s sources its merchandise, average monthly wages for women garment workers were only 12,673 taka – that’s $173 per month, or less than $1 per hour in current Canadian dollars.
‘It’s not enough for a decent life. This is a shameful and long-standing violation of workers’ human rights.’
CLC President Bea Bruske said: ‘With this complaint, we are requesting that the CORE investigate the extent of the human rights harms in Mark’s Bangladesh supply chain, and based on its investigation, call on the company to take action to compensate workers for past harm, increase transparency about its supply chain and immediately negotiate with Bangladeshi unions to ensure that all workers in supplier factories are paid living wages.’
The USW statement continued: ‘The CORE complaint underlines the need for the Canadian government to adopt legislation that will require Canadian companies, including Mark’s and Canadian Tyre, to prevent human rights abuses in their supply chains and effectively hold them to account for any violations.
‘Legislation that would satisfy this need has been tabled in the form of a Private Member’s Bill (Bill C-262) by a New Democratic Party MP.’
Kalpona Akter, Executive Director, Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity, said: ‘If Bill C-262 were in place, Canadian Tyre would be forced to proactively address issues of human rights and poverty wages in its supply chain.
‘The Bangladeshi women and men who make clothes in factories, like those used by Mark’s and Canadian Tyre, work six days per week, ten or twelve hours per day, but earn wages so low that they cannot escape poverty, no matter how hard they work.
‘Many garment workers live in overcrowded housing – typically one rented room, where they have to share a kitchen and share latrines with several other families.
‘Many face a constant struggle to feed themselves and their families, and live one step away from abject poverty.
‘Women are particularly vulnerable to abuse in factories, and at home. The poor living conditions and day-to-day struggles of garment workers are well-known – the injustice is obvious.’

  • The ITUC, Global Union Federations and trade unions across the world are starting the Global 16 Days of Activism today calling on governments to guarantee a world of work free from gender-based violence and harassment.

ITUC said: ‘This right is enshrined in ILO Convention 190 (C190) and Recommendation 206 (R206). The ratification and implementation of C190 and its effective implementation, including R206, are crucial to eliminate gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work.’
‘A survey by trade unions this year found that gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work has increased in recent years and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘This is a warning that GBVH could rise again as the global social, economic and climate crisis intensifies, and reinforces the urgency of this collective call on governments and employers to act.
‘By making C190 and R206 a reality, they will ensure a safer, healthy and more decent world of work. It will also act as an accelerator building social just, resilient economies and peaceful societies rooted in equality and equity.
‘Women trade union leaders from across the world, who gathered during ITUC’s 4th World Women’s Conference in Melbourne, Australia, have #RatifyC190 campaigns in place in over 80 countries.
‘The ITUC report shows examples of how working people across the world are engaging in lobbying, social dialogue, organising and awareness raising to ensure that C190 and R206 become a reality and deliver change.

  • Trade unions celebrated when Panama and Nigeria became the 21st and 22nd countries to ratify C190, joining Barbados and Mexico, while Chile and other countries are next in line. When a government ratifies C190 they need to align their law and policies accordingly.
  • In the Philippines, trade unions aligned C190 with agreements in the transport, construction, metals, logistics and education sectors, and successfully signed a zero-tolerance policy on violence and harassment in Indonesia with 38 companies.
  • In Australia, trade unions celebrated the passing of a bill in parliament that extends rights to millions of workers to 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave. This is a right that will save lives as it allows people to escape volatile and dangerous domestic situations.

Australia’s Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese received a standing ovation at the 5th ITUC World Congress when he told the 1,000 trade unionists from over 120 countries: ‘The Labour government will table in the Parliament of Australia ILO Convention 190 … affirming the right of every person to a work culture based on mutual respect and dignity.
‘It will be the first formal step towards ratification. No women should have to choose between her job and her safety.’
ITUC General Secretary Luca Visentini said: ‘It is urgent that governments waste no more time, they must take inspiration from Australia and take the necessary action to ratify C190.
‘I welcome the governments that have already done this, but we need more.
‘Women workers cannot wait any longer, there can be no more excuses. Gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work is a pandemic that we all have a responsibility to fight against.’
16 Days of Activism runs from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25 November, until Human Rights Day, 10 December.