10/25/2012 05:23 EDT | Updated 12/25/2012 05:12 EST

Sweatshop T-Shirts? Canadian Museum For Human Rights Investigates Source Of Fundraising Shirts

WINNIPEG - Officials with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights are looking into whether some of their fundraising T-shirts are connected to sweatshops in developing countries.

The government-funded museum has been selling T-shirts made in Honduras, El Salvador and other countries in an attempt to raise money before the facility's 2014 opening date.

A report by Global News this week showed that some of the T-shirts were made by Gildan, a Montreal-based clothing manufacturer with factories in Central America, the Carribean and Asia.

Gildan has been criticized by the Workers Rights Consortium, an independent group that alleges Gildan has resorted to threats, intimidation and firings to prevent workers from unionizing.

A Gildan spokesperson told Global News the company respects workers rights and has taken steps to address the consortium's concerns.

Angela Cassie, a spokesperson for the human rights museum, said a review of the matter is underway which will include a discussion with the consortium and the companies that the museum buys from.

"We are speaking with many of our suppliers, and ... with this particular merchandise, if we find that it does not respect or comply with our standards, then we'll take action as appropriate," Cassie said Thursday.

Cassie pointed out that Gildan has been certified by the Fair Labour Association, a U.S.-based group that seeks to have companies voluntarily comply with labour standards. Part of the museum's review will be to determine whether that certification is meaningful.

"That's part of what we're learning in terms of tracking some of these independent third bodies that we use to inform our decision-making," Cassie said.

Cassie defended the museum's overall use of suppliers in developing countries. Some suppliers are small shops that help social causes, such as a women's collective in El Salvador.

"They are micro economic-development projects."

The museum will be Canada's first national museum outside of the Ottawa-Gatineau region.

Originally pushed a decade ago by the late media mogul Izzy Asper, the museum was projected to cost $260 million. But as time went by, construction costs escalated — first to $310 million, then $351 million — and governments at all levels faced increasing requests for money.

In 2007, the federal government essentially took over the project and committed to cover its projected operating costs of $21.7 million a year.

The federal and Manitoba governments, along with Winnipeg city hall, had earlier agreed to put up a total of $160 million in construction costs. The remaining money was to come from private donations.

The project still seemed on shaky ground until this summer when the federal government provided a $35-million interest-free loan and the Manitoba government put up a loan guarantee for another $35 million.

Fundraisers are still hoping to raise $14 million more in private donations.