06/29/2013 17:44 EDT | Updated 08/29/2013 05:12 EDT

Toronto protesters pressure retailers on Bangladesh safety accord

Protesters gathered outside GAP and Wal-Mart stores in Toronto on Saturday, calling on the retail giants to sign a safety accord aimed at protecting garment workers in Bangladesh.

In April more than 1,000 workers died when a building housing a number of factories in Dhaka collapsed.

The scope of the disaster prompted more than 20 companies, including Loblaw and Joe Fresh, to sign a Fire and Building Safety Accord, but Wal-Mart and Gap opted out, saying they intended to work on their own to improve safety in their factories.

In a statement Gap said: "Last year, Gap Inc. implemented a four-point fire and building safety plan and has been on-the-ground in the country."

Wal-Mart says it has a plan that is as good, if not better, than the accord signed by the other stores and says it has committed to rigorous inspections of 100 per cent of its factories within six months.

Protesters say that's not good enough.

"What they are opting for is a voluntary protocol that is enforced only by the companies," said John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council which organized the Saturday protest. "And if the companies want to close one eye, nobody is going call them on it."

Others say the protests should be directed elsewhere.

"We should also be able to put some political pressures on the entrepreneurs there, in the less developed companies, and as well the government," said Victor Gomes, who has researched working conditions in Bangladesh.

The reason to do that, Gomes says, is "so the [Bangladesh] government thinks twice before they give permission and allowances to build constructions that may not be so safe."