Letter from Archbishop James Weisgerber to Industry Minister Brian Tobin Concerning the Exploitation of Children in the Clothing Industry

Monday, July 16 2001

Honourable Brian Tobin
Minister of Industry
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Tobin:

As you may be aware, the Bishops of Canada have long been interested in encouraging ethical activity related to the production and consumption of apparel. Some half dozen years ago, we participated in a massive campaign to bring public attention to the production policies of the NIKE and Levi-Strauss companies. More recently, before Christmas 1999, I wrote to officers of The Bay and Sears to request that they adopt a Canadian base code of principles covering apparel and footwear products sold in their stores. Companies seldom move as quickly as one would like them to, and usually prefer voluntary measures that create limited beneficial change. Increasingly and inescapably, Canadians are recognizing that government has a key role to play in encouraging
ethically based business practices.

The Bishops of Canada encourage ethical production and consumption activities out of a deeply held conviction that the economy should serve persons, not the other way around. As Pope John Paul II recently said, “If seen in the proper light, globalization is an intrinsically ambivalent phenomenon, half way between a potential good for humanity and a social ill with grave consequences. In order to orient its development in a positive light, it will be necessary to undertake profound efforts to build a ‘globalization of solidarity’, encompassing a new culture, with new rules and new regulations and new national, as well as international, institutions. In particular, it will be important to intensify the collaboration between political and economic forces, in order to elaborate specific projects to protect those who could become the victims of the processes of globalization on a planetary scale. I think, for example, … of legislation that prevents the exploitation of children who are forced to go to work at a young age” (statement of Pope John Paul II to the members of the Ethics and Economy Foundation, Rome, May 17, 2001, translation).

We wish to encourage the Government of Canada to revise the regulations of the Textile Trading Act so that information on where clothes sold in Canada are made is publicly available through the Industry Canada website.

In doing so, we join a request already communicated to you by international development organizations, Church organizations, trade unions and solidarity groups who form the Ethical Trading Action Group. We are convinced that providing more information to Canadians on where clothes sold in this country are made would involve only minor changes to current regulations (and thus no new legislation), yet would allow potentially significant improvements in garment workers’ protection, as well as increase ethical options for consumers. Maintaining the current secrecy around where and under what conditions clothes are sewn does nothing to construct the more open and fair global economy that many Canadians desire.

Thank you, Mr. Tobin, for considering this request. We look forward to working with the federal government to assist in the creation of “globalization of solidarity”.

Sincerely yours,

+ Most Reverend V. James Weisgerber
Archbishop of Winnipeg
Chairman, Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs

cc     M. Pierre Brien, MP, Industry Critic, Bloc Québecois
Mr. Scott Brison, MP, Industry Critic, Progressive Conservative Party
Ms. Bev Desjarlais, MP, Industry Critic, New Democratic Party
Mr. Charles Penson, MP, Industry Critic, Canadian Alliance Party