The European Union (EU) has come out with a statement on June 26 praising the country's efforts in improving workplace safety and taking efforts in the right direction to ensure labour rights in the readymade garments (RMG) sector. The EU, however, also stated that much remains to be done to meet international safety standards. The body is of the opinion that workers' rights need to be extended to the special economic zones and it is watching closely developments in the country on how Bangladesh is progressing on the road to implementing “Sustainability Compact” which tied the government to a tripartite agreement with the EU and International Labour Organisation (ILO).
There is no doubt that significant changes have taken place since the fiasco of Rana Plaza that cost 1,135 lives. Labour laws have been amended that has paved the way for unionisation. Two separate groups of international buyers are working with the RMG sector and authorities to ensure safety at factories and recruitment of new inspectors is an ongoing process. While the EU has made certain financial commitments for such work, there remains a contention over the closing down of factories and the employment of foreign inspectors.
The government has waived duties on a number of safety equipment which can only help minimise and tackle fires. In the final analysis of things, improvements have taken place and there are areas that require improvement. What we need to remember is that the RMG sector is an asset to the country and concerted steps must be made by all stakeholders to protect and take it forward.