Dialogues to help garment sector solve crisis: expert

Christian Ewert

Bangladesh needs to hold effective dialogues with the union leaders and senior officials from the European Union and the International Labour Organisation to resolve the crisis of the garment sector and improve relations with the EU, an expert said.

“The dialogues will help resolve the crisis in the garment sector as all the stakeholders will have equal rights to express their opinions,” said Christian Ewert, director-general of the Foreign Trade Association (FTA), a Brussels-based organisation.

The FTA comprises nearly 2,000 retailers and brands, transacting 1.1 trillion euros in 2016.

During the dialogues, Bangladesh should highlight the progress in workplace safety after the Rana Plaza industrial disaster, Ewert suggested.

“Bangladesh has made remarkable progress after the Rana Plaza building collapse as the Accord and the Alliance have completed the inspection, and the remediation is underway to improve workplace safety.”

Of late, the apparel sector has come under renewed pressure after the EU sent a letter to the government with a call to improve the labour rights further.

The letter urged the government to implement the ILO's special paragraph that was given to Bangladesh during the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva last year.

The special paragraph called for amending the labour law and putting in place a single labour law for all workers in the country -- a law that also covers workers employed at factories in the export processing zones.

The ILO paragraph, which has EU's endorsement, has called for easing the terms of forming trade unions at factory level.

During its tour to the country last week, an EU delegation consisting of parliamentarians suggested Bangladesh follow the ILO's special paragraph.

The third-round meeting of the Bangladesh Sustainability Compact meeting is scheduled to take place in Dhaka on May 18 and the next ILC is going to be held in June.

“So, immediate dialogues are important for resolving the crisis. I hope a positive outcome will come out from the dialogues,” said Ewert.

Ewert said Bangladesh also needs to build a better relationship with the retailers and brands by following compliance and supplying goods within the stipulated time to be more competitive.

He said the inspection and remediation of the factory buildings should have a strong follow-up to strengthen the workplace safety.

Ewert backed extension of the tenure of the Accord and the Alliance for stronger monitoring of the remediation.

The tenure of Accord and Alliance will expire in June 2018, he said.

The FTA chief said Bangladesh needs to invest in skills development and diversification of export items.

He said product diversification can even take place within the garment sector as so many varieties of clothing items could be manufactured.

“This means Bangladesh should focus on value added items to be more competitive. Once the country produces more value added items, the exporters will get higher prices by producing less number of products.”

“As a result, the cost of production will go down, which will boost the profit margin. All this requires a skilled workforce capable of producing value added items at minimum cost.”

According to Ewert, Bangladesh will remain as a hotspot for sourcing apparel items as the country has already proved one of the strongest players worldwide.

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