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Canada opts not to restrict trade with Bangladesh after factory collapse

Canada has signalled that it will not, like the U.S., move to hamper trade with Bangladesh as a result of a recent factory collapse that killed over a thousand garment workers in April.

Meeting in Brunei on Tuesday on the sidelines of the 20th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Ministerial Meeting, Foreign Minister John Baird reportedly told his Bangladeshi counterpart, Dipu Moni, that Canada did not intend on taking any steps to reduce the bilateral trade between the two countries, which last year amounted to US$1.6 billion

"Canada does not believe that workers in the sector should be punished through any kind of trade restrictions," Baird is quoted as saying in a press release from the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry.

Also according to the media release, Baird offered to send experts to promote building safety, fire safety and labour law compliance issues in the ready-made garments sector in Bangladesh.

The Canadian statement came close on the heels of a U.S. announcement last week, widely viewed as primarily symbolic, that Bangladeshi access to an American low tariff program called the Generalized System of Preferences for some of its imports would be suspended.

Although international pressure created by the high profile worker deaths in April has led more than 50 global garment retailers to endorse a binding factory fire and safety accord drafted by unions and NGOs, only one Canadian company to date, Loblaws, whose Joe Fresh line of clothing was in part produced in the factory building that collapsed two months ago, has committed to the accord.

Bob Jeffcott, who speaks for the Canadian anti-sweatshop group the Maquila Solidarity Network, said that Baird's statements represent Canada "wimping out" on the central issues.

"There are useful steps Canada could take," Jeffcott said, "but this statement doesn't take any of them."

He said that Canada should make clear to the Bangladeshi government that continued duty free access to Canadian markets is contingent on prompt action in Bangladesh to compel factory owners to meet the standards embodied in the Factory Fire and Safety Accord, which would improve worker safety and freedom to organize and bargain collectively.

Canada should also clearly encourage all Canadian retailers to endorse the accord, he said.

"The government should identify any official Canadian procurement of uniforms and the like in Bangladesh, and make any further such purchases contingent on factories operating in compliance with the provisions of the accord," Jeffcott said.

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy beats for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at

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