Five foreign mission chiefs yesterday gave the government until the end of March to show some “visible progress” towards enhancement of labour rights and factory safety, including the recruitment of 200 factory inspectors.
The focus is on the end of March deadline as the international community would be calling in April to observe the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, Dan Mozena, US ambassador to Bangladesh, said after the meeting with commerce, foreign affairs and labour secretaries.
The secretaries presented the progress made on the 16-point action plan from the Obama administration for regaining the Generalised System of Preferences status, suspended on June 27 last year on grounds of poor labour rights and workplace safety.
Chiefs of the European Union, Dutch, Canadian and German missions were also present at the meeting at the foreign ministry office, where they discussed the whole range of issues including the appointment of 200 factory inspectors, labour rights and freedom of association.
“I am encouraged by the progress, but a lot still needs to be done to regain the GSP,” Mozena said, while reiterating the need to strictly adhere to the action plan to win back trade benefits to the US market.
The US ambassador said a “good roadmap” has been laid out for additional progress in the weeks ahead. “I am encouraged that all the focus is on the March deadline and having these different elements set in place.”
William Hanna, head of the EU delegation to Bangladesh, specifically brought up the issue of the publicly accessible database or matrix of all garment factories, in which information relating to labour and fire and building inspections could be found.
Such a mechanism is yet to be put in place by the government. “The transparent database is key in the Sustainability Compact, so a lot more needs to be done,” he added.
Bangladesh signed the Sustainability Compact with the EU involving the International Labour Organisation on July 8, where it committed to improve labour, health and safety conditions for workers by June 2014.
Heather Cruden, Canadian high commissioner to Bangladesh, too emphasised on the need to demonstrate some headway in the action plan by the anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse, as the international community would be looking in “very closely”.
“There would be lots of press, lots of visitors from countries who are buying garments from Bangladesh, and they want to see progress in the areas of labour standards, fire safety, building safety, labour court and union.
“So, there are lots of work that needs to be done between now and then to meet the commitments that had been outlined in the Sustainability Compact and other documents,” she added.
Mikail Shipar, labour and employment secretary, said he is “hopeful” of recruiting the 200 factory inspectors by the March deadline as the public service commission has “assured” him.
A total of 288 inspectors would be enlisted from the BCS waiting list, according to the labour secretary.
He said a progress report on the action plan would be submitted to the United States of Trade Representative, the chief trade negotiation body for the Obama Administration, by April 15.