Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws has avoided being sued by a group of Bangladeshi Rana Plaza victims and their relatives, after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear their case.
The key issue the lawsuit faced was whether a Canadian court had jurisdiction to consider the plaintiff’s claim, under importance to companies that source product from abroad. The CA$2 bn compensation claim had previously been denied by both Ontario’s Superior Court and Court of Appeal.
A statement from the legal team representing the plaintiffs expressed disappointment, but said the Supreme Court decision should not have effect on other cases that are trying to hold Canadian corporations to account for conduct that endangers the lives of workers abroad.
“We continue to believe that this was a case of national and international importance that raised critical legal issues about corporate liability and the law applicable to the transnational conduct of Canadian corporations. The dismissal of this application leaves important questions unanswered by our country’s highest court. However, these questions will no doubt re-emerge in the coming years with our growing reliance on workers manufacturing our products in precarious conditions,” the team told CBC news organisation.
In 2015, Arati Rani Das, who lost a limb and whose mother was killed in the collapse, and three other Bangladeshi citizens launched a proposed class action in Ontario against Loblaws and three of its affiliates. Two of the clothing-manufacturing companies n the collapse were Pearl Global and New Wave, which were under contract to supply Loblaws with apparel for its Joe Fresh brand.
In their statement of claim, the plaintiffs argued Loblaws was responsible for worker safety, alleging the company knew workplaces in Bangladesh were dangerous and had to ensure the buildings in which its garments were made were safe.
As reported by CBC, the Superior Court Justice Paul decided in July 2017 that Bangladesh’s laws applied, meaning that the claim had been filed too late and that Loblaws owed no duty of care to the proposed class members. “The imposition of liability on Loblaws is unfair given that the defendants are not responsible for the vulnerability of the plaintiffs, did not create the dangerous workplace, had no control over the circumstances that were dangerous,” said Court Justice Paul Perell.
In December of last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that Loblaws had little control over the factories and had never promised to audit Rana Plaza for structural safety.
In an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail, counsel to law firm Rochon Genova – which brought a class-action lawsuit against Loblaw – Allan C. Hutchinson said: “the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision to deny an appeal in a lawsuit brought by victims of a Bangladeshi tragedy might seem like a small and obscure footnote to class-action jurisprudence. But it is not. Its ramifications are highly significant for serious and wide-ranging matters on corporate responsibility and global trade.
“Canadians must begin to take responsibility and action on this horrendous trend, especially when it involves Canadian companies. As the beneficiaries of the cheap products made and exported to us, we are implicated in the conditions that give rise to these deaths and injuries,” he noted.