EU continues to ensure better future for Bangladeshi garment industry workers
At a meeting on January 28, 2016 in Dhaka (Bangladesh), the representatives of the EU, US, Canada, Bangladesh and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) – partners committed to the so called Bangladesh Sustainability Compact – assessed the progress and set priorities for further work to improve situation of Bangladeshi textile workers. The meeting was also an opportunity for an open dialogue with stakeholders including trade unions, NGOs, buyers and employers
The initiative born in the aftermath of the tragic factory collapses in 2013 has brought about some tangible progress. The Government of Bangladesh has put in place a legal framework for labour protection that has now to be effectively implemented. Also, important work has been done on initial safety inspections in factories and to strengthen capacity of inspection services.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström declared: “Promoting responsible supply chains is an important part of our new trade and investment strategy. The respect of human and core labour rights are at the heart of our engagement with countries getting privileged access to the EU market. The Compact cooperation shows that we can team up with other concerned partners and work towards bringing about positive change. We are committed to taking this joint work forward in several areas in the coming months.”
EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Mobility Marianne Thyssen said: “The progress achieved so far proves that initiatives like the Bangladesh Compact can be effective in promoting genuine social dialogue and decent working conditions in the global context. While aiming for more fairness in global supply chains, we must also continue to encourage essential reforms.”
The priorities for further work singled out by the participants of today’s meeting include tackling issues related to registration of trade unions, ensuring appropriate investigation and prosecution of unfair labour practices and ensuring that workers can freely elect their representatives at factory level consistently with ILO conventions. Workers in Export Processing Zones should also have commensurate rights to those of the workers outside these zones.
On the safety side, the joint conclusions point to the importance of practical measures and repairs that need to be carried out in the factories. Partners will also continue supporting the Bangladeshi authorities in building capacity necessary for an effective supervision of occupational safety and health conditions, electrical safety and structural integrity of buildings and work in cooperation with all relevant stakeholders.
The parties warmly welcomed Canada as a new partner to the Compact and reaffirmed their commitment. The work will now continue and the next progress review is scheduled in a year.
In reaction to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in April 2013, the Government of Bangladesh, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the European Union and the United States launched a joint initiative known as the “Compact for Continuous Improvements in Labour Rights and Factory Safety in the Ready-Made Garment and Knitwear Industry in Bangladesh”. Given its involvement in the same supply chains and its own efforts to promote sustainable sourcing, Canada decided to join the initiative as of 2016.
The Compact outlines concrete commitments in respect of labour rights, in particular freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, as well as structural integrity of factory buildings, occupational safety and health, and promotion of responsible business conduct.
The European Commission has been working closely with the other Compact partners to translate its commitments into tangible improvements. To this aim, the Commission hosted in October 2014 the first Compact follow-up meeting and released two technical reports, in July 2014 and April 2015.