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Public Works mulls ethical-clothing plan for federal employees

RCMP officers march off parade grounds in Regina on Sept. 12, 2010. Public Works – the department in charge of buying uniforms and work wear for employees of the federal government, including the Mounties – is giving serious thought to purchasing some of its clothing from suppliers who follow strict labour laws and have good working conditions, a new document shows.

MARK TAYLOR/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Mounties, prison guards and park wardens could soon be sporting new clothes made in an ethical way.

Public Works – the department in charge of buying uniforms and work wear for employees of the federal government – is giving serious thought to purchasing some of its clothing from suppliers who follow strict labour laws and have good working conditions, a new document shows.

The department, which each year buys about $80-million worth of apparel, set up a special group to look into the possibility of buying more of its clothes from ethical clothing manufacturers.

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"The task force was initiated as part of the strategy to address public concerns on the government of Canada's ethical sourcing of apparel and the disclosure of country of origin information," says a recent memo to a senior Public Works official.

The Canadian Press obtained the memo under the Access to Information Act.

Governments and companies around the world faced heightened scrutiny after a deadly factory collapse in Bangladesh in April, 2013. Since then, some Canadian companies and levels of government have done more to make sure that the clothing they buy doesn't come from sweatshops or other dodgy suppliers.

Last October, Public Works sought input from companies. A notice posted on a government contracts website says Ottawa is "very concerned about ethically responsible practices in the manufacturing if apparel."

But as recently as last spring, more than a dozen departments and agencies still had no clue where their clothing came from, according to the government's answers to written questions posed by NDP MP Matthew Kellway.

Others knew which countries made their clothes, but not the names of the manufacturers.

Since last April, Public Works has included the country of origin on all of its clothing contracts, which are posted on a government website.

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The department also struck a task force to look at how other governments and companies make sure their apparel comes from ethical suppliers. Part of their job was to figure out what constitutes an "ethical" supplier.

Public Works says the task force has come up with options to buy clothing from ethical suppliers, and the department will begin consultations with companies early this year.

"Following the research work recently conducted by the task force on ethical sourcing, options will be recommended to enhance PWGSC's procurement practices with regard to ethical sourcing of apparel," department spokeswoman Annie Joannette wrote in an e-mail.

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