TORONTO – The Supreme Court of Canada has said it will not overturn an earlier ruling that Loblaws, one of Canada’s largest retailers, can’t be held liable for the tragedy that killed 1,130 people at Rana Plaza. The court also upheld a ruling by the Appeal Court whereby the plaintiffs must pay Loblaws almost US$1m in legal costs. The Supreme Court refused to hear a group of Bangladeshi victims and relatives who wanted to sue Loblaws over the tragedy. The issued hinged on whether a Canadian court had jurisdiction to consider the claim, which has huge implications for apparel brands which source abroad. Previously, Ontario’s Superior Court and Court of Appeal had both denied the plaintiffs class-action certification. They were seeking US$2bn in compensation.
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Rana Plaza, a nine-storey clothing factory, collapsed on April 24, 2013. The previous day, cracks appeared in the structure, yet an investigation into the collapse revealed garment workers were ordered to go to work that morning to finish an order of 24,000 pairs of Joe Fresh jeans. The workers were employed of New Wave, the Rana Plaza-based factory from which Loblaw — owner of the Joe Fresh brand — contracted manufacturing services. It is claimed Joe Fresh orders accounted for half of New Wave’s operations at the time of the accident.
Both the Superior Court, the Court of Appeal had previously determined that Bangladesh law governs the plaintiffs’ claim, and the Supreme Court has essentially upheld this decision. The plaintiffs had previously claimed certain pleadings connect the claim to Ontario. In particular, the plaintiffs had argued Loblaws assumed responsibility over worker safety, as they determined the scope of audits. The plaintiffs also argued that Bureau Veritas’ alleged failure to provide professional advice to Loblaws happened in Ontario.
The Court of Appeal rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments and held that the essence of the claim is based in the injuries. The Court concluded that, because those injuries occurred in Bangladesh, the governing law is that of Bangladesh.
The Supreme Court has upheld all these rulings.