marks work wearhouse

Canadian Tire suppliers accused of exploiting workers with 'poverty wages'

Two major labour unions have filed a formal complaint with federal human rights regulators against Canadian Tire, alleging that garments being sold at its subsidiary Mark's (formerly known as Mark's Work Wearhouse) are being produced by people overseas who, on average, make less than a single dollar per hour.

The aforementioned factory workers are also said to live in "abject poverty" despite working as much as six days a week, 12 hours a day, to make garments sold under brand names like Wind River, Denver Hayes, Dakota and Helly Hansen, according to The Canadian Press.

The United Steelworkers union (USW) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) announced on Tuesday that they had filed a complaint with the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), a government agency responsible for reviewing complaints about possible human rights abuses by Canadian companies "when those companies work outside Canada in the garment, mining, and oil and gas sectors."

Of particular concern to the labour groups are factories in Bangladesh that feed Canadian Tire's supply chain.

"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," said USW National Director Marty Warren in a release announcing the complaint on Nov. 22.

"It's not enough for a decent life. This is a shameful and long-standing violation of workers’ human rights."

Kalpona Akter, executive director for the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity is quoted in the release as saying that "Bangladeshi women and men who make clothes in factories like those used by Mark's and Canadian Tire work six days per week, ten or twelve hours per day."

Sadly, explained Akter, the wages earned by these garment factory employees — even working those ridiculous hours — are so low that they "cannot escape poverty, no matter how hard they work."

The USW and CLC are thus asking the Canadian Ombudsperson to "investigate the extent of the human rights harms in Mark's Bangladesh supply chain."

Based on what regulators find, the labour groups want to see Canadian Tire take action to change conditions at these factories, and compensate workers for any past harm.

The groups say Canada's federal government should call upon the owner of Mark's to "increase transparency about its supply chain and immediately negotiate with Bangladeshi unions to ensure that all workers in supplier factories are paid living wages," as CLC President Bea Bruske put it.

Canadian Tire said in a statement issued to the Canadian Press on Tuesday that it works to ensure its suppliers comply with local laws.

"As part of our activities to ensure compliance, [Canadian Tire] regularly tracks wage rates and works with reputable third parties to audit factories that manufacture our owned brand products," reads the statement.

Legal as it may be in Bangladesh to pay workers such a low sum for their labour, the Canadian unions argue that these overseas suppliers violate international human rights standards.

"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," said Akter in today's release.

"Many face a constant struggle to feed themselves and their families... 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."

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