12:00 AM, January 14, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 14, 2013

Garment Safety

Europe now takes US cue

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Refayet Ullah Mirdha

The European Parliament is set to hold a discussion on Wednesday on the working conditions in Bangladesh's garment factories.
The discussion on Bangladesh is part of a three-day plenary session starting today.
Parliamentarians will also talk about health and safety at work, occupational medicine, pay structure, labour rights, trade union and corporate social responsibility in Bangladesh, according to the European Parliament website and the commerce ministry in Dhaka.
The move comes in the wake of the Tazreen fire that killed at least 112 workers, the commerce ministry said in a document, citing a letter from the European Union (EU) sent through the Bangladesh embassy in Brussels.
“We have received a letter from the EU a few days ago and we have already replied to it,” Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed told The Daily Star by phone.
In a separate letter, the Bangladesh ambassador urged the commerce ministry to urgently take all necessary measures to prevent any kind of “negative propaganda” against Bangladesh.
A foreign traders' association in Brussels informed the ambassador of its wish not to buy garment products from factories in Bangladesh with inadequate fire-safety measures, according to the letter.
Europe, which is Bangladesh's largest export destination, buys 60 percent of the nation's garment products.
Meanwhile, the US is threatening to cancel the generalised system of preferences (GSP) facility for Bangladesh, with the unsafe working conditions in factories being one of the reasons.
Bangladesh's delay in singing the Trade and Investment Cooperation Framework Agreement (TICFA) could be another reason, Commerce Minister GM Quader said at a separate event in Dhaka.
“The recent US government move on the GSP facility might have indirectly been linked to the TICFA,” Quader said.
Given this backdrop the commerce ministry, in consultation with the different stakeholders, has been preparing the country's 'position paper' to be presented at the next hearing of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in March.
“The USTR asked Bangladesh to submit the position paper by January 31,” the commerce secretary, Mahbub Ahmed, told reporters after a consultation meeting at his secretariat.
The USTR in a letter sent to the commerce minister wanted to know the improvements Bangladesh made over the years in four broad areas -- ready-made garment (RMG) sector, shrimp processing sector, export processing zone (EPZ) and fire safety.
With regards to the RMG sector, the USTR wanted to know the progress made in the registration of trade unions, the investigation into the abduction and murder of labour leader Aminul Islam and the appointment of labour advocate or ombudsman.
The USTR wanted to know the progress made in resolving the recent indecent working conditions in the shrimp sector, Ahmed said.
Regarding EPZ, the USTR sought details about progress in Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority's plan to abolish rules that blacklist workers for labour protests.
On fire safety, the USTR wants to know whether Bangladesh would seek help from the US, the International Labour Organisation or a third party for a baseline analysis of fire fighting capacity and introduce a hotline for fire information.
“We have improved significantly in many areas. I hope the USTR will be satisfied with the measures Bangladesh has taken particularly in improving the fire safety and compliances,” Ahmed said.

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