Bangladesh needs to step up its efforts to prevent the exploitation of textile workers, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) said in a non-binding resolution adopted on Wednesday.
The 2013 Sustainability Compact, aimed at preventing tragedies like the April 2013 Rana Plaza disaster, had resulted in moderate improvements in workplace safety, but respect of workers' rights was lagging behind, MEPs noted in the resolution adopted by a show of hands.
Textile workers in Bangladesh, many of whom were young women, suffer long working hours, low wages, uncertainty and hazardous conditions, they said. "Trade union leaders are often persecuted."
Reviewing the implementation of the 2013 Compact, MEPs suggested a series of measures, according to the European Parliament website.
The government of Bangladesh should swiftly amend the 2013 Labour Act to ensure freedom of association, collective bargaining and to recruit more factory inspectors, they suggested.
The mandate of the “ACCORD”, a platform including EU companies that help to implement the Compact, should be renewed after its expiry in May 2018 and international brands ought to take their CSR policy more seriously to ensure decent working conditions, they observed.
They suggested that the EU Commission table an EU-wide legislative initiative on the garment sector for a due diligence system.
Bernd Lange, chair of the Committee on International Trade (INTA), said, “Despite some progress in recent years, the situation on the ground remains worrisome."
"We are very concerned about the lack of meaningful progress in implementing the commitments of the Sustainability Compact by Bangladesh. Countries, which disrespect fundamental rights at work, should not be encouraged by benefiting from unrestricted access to our market," he said.
Lange said the government of Bangladesh would need to demonstrate that it is willing and able to deliver on its own promises and the demands of the international community.
Standing rapporteur for South Asia, Sajjad Karim, said the EU trade policy was powerful and based on values, meaning they demand their trading partners respect core principles in the areas of human, labour and environmental rights.
"I have done all I can as chair of the INTA Monitoring Group for South Asia to get Bangladesh to comply. It seems they are not listening. We cannot keep issuing appeals and statements every year -- we have to see tangible results on the ground for privileged market access to be continued," he said.
Bangladesh benefits from the most favourable regime under the EU's trade preferences that grant duty and quota-free access to the EU market, except on arms and ammunition.
In July 2013, in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy, the EU took the initiative of launching a Sustainability Compact for Bangladesh to improve labour rights and factory safety.
The initiative brings together the EU, the government, the USA, Canada -- the main markets for Bangladeshi garment products -- as well as the International Labour Organisation.
The EU is Bangladesh's main trading partner, absorbing 46.7 percent of its exports in 2015. Bangladesh is the world's second largest garment producer, with the textile sector providing almost 81 percent of total exports; almost 60 percent of the clothing goes to the EU.
A delegation of the International Trade Committee visited Bangladesh on a fact-finding mission in November 2016.