Germany will critically assess Bangladesh's next moves towards improving factory safety and ensuring worker rights following the Rana Plaza tragedy, a German delegation warned yesterday.
Stefan Rebmann, deputy head of a seven-member delegation from the German parliament, said Germany and the whole of Europe are attaching great importance to this development.
He made the comment at a press briefing about the outcome of the delegation's four-day visit to the country.
Speaking at the briefing, Dagmar G Woehrl, a member of the German parliament, said the Rana Plaza disaster came as a shock not only for Bangladesh, but also for the whole world.
“We wanted to see with our own eyes what has been done in the meantime and what remains to be done in the future.”
Chairperson of the Committee on Economic Cooperation and Development of the German parliament, Woehrl said Bangladesh's garment sector, the second largest exporter to the world, has gone through a period of tremendous growth.
“It is now time for better factories, higher health and safety standards, and for full compliance with ILO conventions.”
Germany is a prime destination for garment products manufactured in Bangladesh: about 17 percent of the country's total garment exports go to the European nation, making it the second largest market for Bangladeshi products.
Two-way trade between the two countries now stands at 5 billion euros. In 2013, Bangladesh's exports to Germany stood at 3.5 billion euros and import at 452 million euros.
“This creates a joint obligation for buyers, traders and producers, for the government and for us, for the trade unions and civil society, to make sure that production and working conditions are up to international standards.”
On the first day of their trip, the seven-member delegation visited a garment factory and the Rana Plaza building site, where the members laid down flowers.
It held meetings with leaders of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, government higher-ups including the prime minister and international retailers.
Woehrl, however, praised the undergoing factory inspection efforts in the garment sector. “But it is only the beginning of a long road.”
In particular, further steps need to be taken to amend the existing labour laws once more, he said, adding that the issue has already been discussed with the government.
“All objectives must be centred on the need to further improve safety and social standards in order to ensure decent working conditions for those who are producing the garments we are wearing in Germany, and to avoid industrial tragedies in future.”
Woehrl said Germany also has its fair share of responsibility. “We also need to do our homework, as we are the second largest garment customer of Bangladesh.”
This was the first German parliamentary delegation visit to Bangladesh after the Bundestag election in September last year.
“For us, it was very important to resume the dialogue with the current government because in Germany we are currently in the process of negotiating our budget.”
“We are currently deciding how we would like to continue this partnership with Bangladesh because we have been a partner for so many years and we would like to continue to support you and expand our relations.”
Since 1972, Germany has given Bangladesh 2.5 billion euro in aid, and it does not include the international and multilateral contribution.
Rebmann said after the fateful Rana Plaza disaster, the country has already taken the first step in improving labour conditions by amending labour laws.
“This is something we are aware of. We also realise that further steps will be needed when it comes to recognising the ILO-set labour standards.”
He also advocated for trade unions in the country's garment factories.
“There are strong trade unions in Germany, which are not detrimental to the country or the employers. A strong trade union actually helps a country move forward.”
He said his country would do everything within its power to influence German companies so that production is continued in Bangladesh and jobs can be saved.
“Steps to establish high labour standards have to be taken.”
She said Bangladesh would have to ensure reliable energy supply to woo foreign investment for raising industrial production.
The delegation expressed Germany's willingness to invest in reliable energy, renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Other members of the delegation included Jürgen Klimke, Frank Heinrich, Gabi Weber, Niema Movassat and Uwe Kekeritz. Albrecht Conze, German ambassador to Bangladesh, was also present at the briefing.