EU cautions over RMG workplace safety

Wikipedia file photo of the flag of European Union.

European Union has cautioned of revisiting its duty-free quota for Bangladesh if poor workplace safety for workers continue in the country.

“Another tragedy or even just the continuation of today’s poor working condition could also force the EU to revisit Everything But Arms (EBA),” Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s trade commissioner said at a programme held on April 22, Wednesday.

She was speaking at a conference styled "Remembering Rana Plaza: What Next" at the European Parliament in Brussels today.

On April 24 two years ago, over 1,100 people died and double as many others injured in the worst workplace disaster of the world at Savar’s Rana Plaza collapse.

The incident spread a wave of concern all over the world regarding the workplace safety in the readymade garments industry of Bangladesh.

“We’re here today to remember Rana Plaza. Remembrance has a double purpose. We do it to show our respect for victims, the survivors and their families.”

And we do it to show we’ve learned from the past. The best way we can do that is by changing our behaviour. And I hope that is exactly what we will do,” said Malmström.

Bangladesh's export earnings currently stand at above $30 billion, half of which comes from the EU.

EU’s ‘Everything But Arms’ arrangement was born in 2001 to give all LDCs full duty- free and quota-free access to the EU for all their exports with the exception of arms and armaments.

 The EU Trade Commissioner lauded the progress made by trade unions, businesses and the government of Bangladesh within the framework of the 2013 Sustainability Compact. But she also noted that much more needs to be done to improve the conditions for Bangladesh's workers.

Cecilia Malmström said the country's economic future and the conditions of its workers are inextricably linked. “So fully implementing the compact makes good economic sense just as much as it makes good moral sense.”

The government needs to adopt legislation that ensures rights to workers in the zones are effectively the same as those provided for in the national labour law, she said. “This law has also been pending for some time. Now is the time to move ahead with it.”

She said the steps taken so far would deliver a significant boost to the reform process but they’re not enough. “As far as labour rights are concerned, there’s a room for further reform to the law.”

For example, she said, the law as it stands does not fully comply with ILO conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining. “I hope the government will take this up soon. The results on factory inspections are also only partial.”

Bangladesh has now recruited over 170 inspectors and continues to increase the resources available to the authorities responsible for building and fire safety. “This must continue.”

Bangladeshi authorities must be ready to take the ownership of inspections when the privately-run initiatives end in 2018, she said.

The EU trade commissioner said brands and retailers also need to step when it comes to providing compensation funding to the Rana Plaza Trust fund.

“As of today, we’re almost 8.5 million US dollars short of the 30 million dollar target. This money is vital to help those most directly affected get their lives back on track,” she said.

The Trade Commissioner said companies need to step up now, on the second anniversary of this disaster, and transfer what is needed.

“Finally, providing rehabilitation and retraining to the Rana Plaza survivors is a long term, not a short term exercise. So we all also have to continue our efforts on that,” she added.


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