11/25/2013 12:41 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 05:59 EST

Bangladeshi worker demands The Bay sign safety accord

Months after the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, a union organizer and former garment factory worker says Canadian companies have not done enough to address safety issues and workers rights.

Kalpona Akter, the executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, will join a rally outside the Hudson's Bay downtown Vancouver store asking for the company to sign onto an international agreement known as the Bangladesh Safety Accord. 

"If the company had signed the accord in 2011 when it started, we would not have lost these 1,200 workers," said Akter in an interview with CBC Radio's Rick Cluff on The Early Edition. 

Kalpone speaks from personal experience when she talks about factory conditions in Bangladesh.

At the age of 12, when her father — the primary earner in her family — couldn't work anymore, she had to drop out of school to start working in a garment factory. 

"It was a different world," she said. 

But her tenure didn't last long. Akter was fired four years later after she tried to organize a union. 

"I had no idea what the law was," she said describing her surprise when she learned companies could be sued for poor working conditions.

Over time, Akter came to learn the laws around collective bargaining and worker's rights, noting child labour is not as common now as it was when she was working as a teenager. 

But she still believes worker safety and rights have a long way to go, and she wants The Bay to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord. 

The legally binding five-year agreement will see independent safety inspections conducted by an auditor hired by the signatories to the accord, mandatory repairs and renovations and repercussions for suppliers who refuse to improve conditions, including the termination of business.

While the Bay has not signed onto the accord, it has signed, along with North America retailers including Canadian Tire, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a separate accord which puts more onus on the Bangladeshi government to play a role in worker safety in future by upgrading national fire and building standards.