TORONTO -- The only Canadian retailer to publicly acknowledge it used a manufacturer in a poorly made Bangladeshi building that collapsed and killed hundreds of people last week said Monday it will pay compensation for the families of victims.
Loblaw Inc. -- which had some products for its Joe Fresh clothing line made in one of the garment factories in the building -- said it aimed to ensure victims and their families "receive benefits now and in the future."
"We are working to ensure that we will deliver support in the best and most meaningful way possible," company spokeswoman Julija Hunter said.
"Our priorities are helping the victims and their families, and driving change to help prevent similar incidents in the future."
At least 382 people died after the illegally constructed eight-storey Rana Plaza collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh, on Wednesday. About 2,500 survivors have been accounted for.
A Bangladesh court on Monday gave police 15 days to interrogate the owner of the building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, who was arrested Sunday as he tried to flee to India. He will be held for questioning on charges of negligence, illegal construction and forcing workers to work there. His father, Abdul Khaleque, was also arrested on suspicion of aiding Rana to force people to work in a dangerous building.
Loblaw (TSX:L) had already said it was working with other retailers to support local efforts and provide aid in Bangladesh. The company was also sending senior officials to Bangladesh to get answers on what caused the collapse.
The compensation announcement came as Loblaw and other companies met with the Retail Council of Canada's responsible trade committee on Monday to discuss how to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Retail Council president and CEO Diane Brisebois has said one of the challenges has been that Canadian agencies don't have the power to mandate certain codes or regulations are followed in another country.
Loblaw has said its vendor standards were designed to ensure products are manufactured in a socially responsible way, but current measures do not address the issue of building construction or integrity.
While details of the meeting weren't expected until Tuesday, some observers hoped the gathering would help companies figure out how to push manufacturers to provide safe workplaces and allow for the empowerment of employees.
Some even suggested the federal government could make retailers list third-party certifications on product labels so shoppers know their purchases were made under conditions that met a certain standard.
"What's needed is enhanced oversight by Canadian retailers," said Kernaghan Webb, a law professor who heads Toronto's Ryerson Institute for the Study of Corporate Social Responsibility.
"They could use this as an opportunity to say 'Let's take a fresh look at our entire set of commitments on everything' -- minimum wage, issues of whether or not workers can unionize, health and safety -- and they could revise those."
Ensuring manufacturers allow employees to organize in committees or unions, and pushing for checks on the structural integrity and fire safety of factories are high priority items, said Webb.
-- The Canadian Press, with files from The Associated Press