On a national day of mourning, let’s look abroad as well

One day is not enough. One death is too many. April 28: Day of MourningToday we mourn the many workers killed or injured on the job. For 30 years now, Canadians have set aside April 28 to look beyond the sheer statistics — the workplace deaths that top 1,000 every year in Canada, the thousands of injuries ranging from painful to permanently debilitating — and to commit ourselves to action.

Better enforcement of laws and regulations that look good on paper, but mean little if employers can shrug them off. More resources for workplace health and safety. More stringent contract language.

And a stronger, broader labour movement, so nobody feels they’re alone when they tell their boss a task is too dangerous or a risk is too great.

The situation is even worse in many other countries. As horrible as it is to think that more than a thousand Canadians die on the job every year, the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh on April 23, 2013 claimed as many lives in a single day.

Paul Dewar, foreign affairs critic for Canada’s NDP, has helped lead a drive to ensure Canadian companies disclose far more information about their supply chain: the global assembly line that brings products to our store shelves. As he points out,

On April 24, 2013, Canadians across the country were wearing clothes made by workers in Rana Plaza and equally unsafe factories worldwide. In the wake of the catastrophe, many of us have sought to learn more about the conditions in which our clothes are made.

We all want to know what we can do — individually and collectively — to prevent a future tragedy. […]

Ultimately, social responsibility is grounded in a simple premise: no one should leave for work in the morning and not make it home because basic labour standards were not met. The strong response to the Rana Plaza tragedy showed that Canadians feel it is our responsibility to demand responsible, sustainable, and equitable economic and social engagement with people in developing countries.

It certainly is. And it’s our responsibility as well to recognize that one workplace death — in Canada, Bangladesh or anywhere else — is one too many, and to combine remembrance with action. We need fewer reasons to mourn, and more reasons to hope.

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