US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan W Mozena yesterday lashed out at the garment owners who are “unwilling to meet international safety and labour rights standards”.
“Those owners ... should close and leave the sector. I think they have no right to make their profits by exploiting their workers, thus putting the entire sector at risk as inevitable future Tazreen Fashions and Rana Plaza disasters destroy the Bangladesh Brand,” Mozena said at the closing session of a two-day training programme on the labour law.
Mozena said the owners know that neglecting workplace safety will result in more industrial accidents like the Tazreen fire and Rana Plaza collapse, but they are “focused on maximising their profits now”.
If the sector collapses in the future as more tragedies destroy the country's ability to compete in the global marketplace, those owners will “simply take their profits and shift elsewhere”, he added.
The US envoy went on to urge the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the sector's apex trade body, to ensure that all owners comply with the heightened convention for workplace safety and labour rights, while lauding the ones that have already made the necessary investments.
While acknowledging the progress made towards enhancing fire safety, factory structural soundness and respect for workers' rights to freely associate and organise, he said “more remains to be done on numerous fronts”.
Mozena specifically mentioned of the hiring of 200 new inspectors, establishing and utilising a publicly accessible database that will post the results of all inspections and the status of efforts to address identified shortcomings, implementation of the 2006 and 2013 reforms to the labour law and extending them to the factories at the export processing zones.
He is hopeful that “much further progress will be made on all of these fronts” before the April 15 deadline for submitting input for the next review of Bangladesh's claims for trade privileges to the US market, suspended on June 27 last year by the Obama administration.
“I believe the darkest, darkest clouds of the Tazreen Fashions fire and Rana Plaza building collapse do have a silver lining. I believe that from those tragedies will come transformation of the Bangladesh readymade garment industry,” he said, while citing the remedial steps taken in the last nine months.
About the workers' right to freely associate, one of the chief demands of the international community, he said: “Workers are increasingly organising themselves in unions, real unions that represent genuinely the interests of the workers.”
Between 2011 and 2012, only two unions were registered by the government, but in 2013 and so far this year, around 100 unions have been done, he said.
“I hope that the pace of union formation will accelerate and that there will soon be hundreds and hundreds of unions that will provide workers an organised voice so workers can partner with the owners to the benefit of the entire sector.”