Canada goose, domestic production, labor organizers, labor unions, luxury, fashion, ethical

Canada Goose has responded to recent allegations of union-busting and unsafe working conditions.

In a recent statement, the outerwear brand said, “As a Canadian business, we are proud of the manufacturing infrastructure and the diverse and skilled workforce that we have hired and trained across Canada and in Winnipeg — representing more than 20 percent of the Canadian cut and sew industry. Canada Goose and its management team recognize and respect the right of all workers in Canada to organize in accordance with local law. Since 2017, and prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of unionized employees at Canada Goose has increased by more than 175 percent. We’re proud of our employees and we are proud to be made in Canada.”

The statement came in response to a grassroots campaign launched last week by Winnipeg-based Canada Goose factory workers with support of Workers United, an American and Canadian labor union that represents some 85,000 workers in industries like textiles. The online petition calls attention to claims of poor working conditions (including safety concerns, broken bathrooms, lack of sanitizer and limited access to personal protective equipment) at Canada Goose jacket production factories, while raising awareness of an alleged history of union busting focusing on one failed attempt of unionization at a Winnipeg factory in 2019.

The Manitoba Labour Board oversees the Winnipeg Canada Goose facilities and requires that at least 40 percent of the employees support unionizing in the “proposed bargaining unit.” At the time, about 400 Canada Goose employees (or 33 percent) attempted unionizing at one plant (referred to as “CG2”) in 2019. There were about 1,200 workers across all three plants in support of unionizing at the time, but the Manitoba Labour Board rejected the union application based on the unmet quota. At the end of 2019, Canada Goose employed 4,591 workers in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, as per its website.

“The employer had the right to challenge [the vote] as they did, but it is hard to reconcile that with the image Canada Goose likes to portray that they are not anti-union in Winnipeg,” said Richard Bensinger, activist and founder of the Organizing Institute. Bensinger has been helping 1,200 immigrant garment workers working for Canada Goose organize in Winnipeg. “Also, after we applied for the vote (there is a two-week period between filing the application and the actual vote) the employer worried that we might win the vote and the legal case about the composition of the unit, held an anti-union meeting with all the quality control workers. These workers were from all areas of the plant and are very influential. Not only was this another sign of their anti-unionism, they committed unfair labor practices during this meeting and were found guilty by the Manitoba Labor Board.”

Canada Goose did not comment specifically on the worker testimonies raised in the campaign and by media reports, but instead reaffirmed its stance on COVID-19 safety protocols and discrimination-free working conditions.

When asked why discrimination claims have not been waged against the company, Besinger said: “My sense is workers are very afraid to file anything against the company. Most of the workers are immigrants and this is the most fear I have seen at any company in my 40-year career.”

Canada Goose’s signature down-filled parkas have fit a myriad of lifestyles, from rugged outerwear of choice to an emblem of luxury street style. In 2013, private equity firm Bain Capital purchased a majority stake in the Toronto company, later taking the company public. As its luxury verticals grew, outsourced activities would expand to include knitwear made in Italy and Romania and accessories in Asia. With the company’s growth, organizers say Canada Goose has lost touch with its predominately immigrant and female workforce — quickly petering out labor unions despite the company’s statement.

Today, Canada Goose is fine-tuning its sustainability journey having recently launched its “most sustainable parka” this January. But as the 64-year-old Toronto-founded company embraces its domestic manufacturing roots, recent events show rising hostility.