The Rana Plaza Class Action: Lessons for Class Action Lawyers

  • April 24, 2019
  • Ranjan Agarwal, Gannon Beaulne and Ethan Schiff

In April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, killing and injuring thousands of bystanders and workers in the building’s factories. Many of these factories were contracted or subcontracted by multinational retailers. The plaintiffs, survivors or family members of deceased workers, commenced a putative class action in Ontario against Loblaws, which sold garments made in Rana Plaza, and Bureau Veritas, a multinational auditing company engaged by Loblaws to do a limited “social audit” at one of the factories where Loblaws’ goods were manufactured.

Justice Paul Perell struck out the plaintiffs’ action under Rule 21 of the Rules of Civil Procedure (Das v George Weston Limited, 2017 ONSC 4219). The Court of Appeal for Ontario (Justices Doherty and Feldman and Justice Gray sitting ad hoc) upheld the decision (2018 ONCA 1053). Both Justice Perell and the Court of Appeal held that the action was governed by Bangladeshi law and could not succeed because: (a) the claims of proposed class members who were not minors at the time of the collapse were statute-barred under Bangladeshi limitations law; and (b) neither Loblaws nor Bureau Veritas owed the alleged duties of care to the plaintiffs under Bangladeshi law.

Justice Perell also awarded the defendants their costs of the action, totaling about $2.35 million (2017 ONSC 5583). The Court of Appeal reduced that costs award by 30 per cent given the public interest elements in the case.

The plaintiffs have sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.