EU not happy with factory safety efforts
The European Union is not satisfied with the progresses Bangladesh has made to improve workplace safety in the apparel industry following the Rana Plaza building collapse last year, its envoy in Dhaka said yesterday.
Progresses in terms of the payment of compensation to the Rana Plaza victims, free association of workers and implementation of minimum wages are not satisfactory, William Hanna, ambassador of the EU delegation, said.
“A few changes are happening. But lots of things need to be done,” he told reporters after a programme “Lives beyond machines -- a reflection on priorities for women in the RMG sector” organised by CARE Bangladesh at Cirdap auditorium in the city.
The programme was arranged to showcase the features of a CARE project for garment workers -- Solidarity and Empowerment through Education, Motivation and Awareness (SEEMA) funded by the EU.
Hanna's comments came ahead of a US review in May on Bangladesh's preparations in improving its labour and factory conditions for lifting a bar on the GSP facility that was scrapped last year.
Bangladesh also signed a 'Sustainability Compact' in July last year with the EU involving the International Labour Organisation for improving fire and building safety in the garment sector.
The EU will also consider the steps Bangladesh will take to comply with a set of US conditions meant for reviving the trade privilege in the North American market.
Currently, Bangladesh enjoys a 12.5 percent duty benefit in the EU market, which offers the generalised system of preferences (GSP) for the country's 60 percent exports meant for the bloc of 28 nations.
Though the US trade privilege covers only 0.54 percent of Bangladesh's total exports, regaining the GSP is important for the country as the EU may also be influenced by the US decision.
Although Bangladesh has undertaken a number of initiatives such as amending the labour law, increasing minimum wages and easing rules to help workers form trade unions in factories, these have to be implemented properly, Hanna said.
All the Rana Plaza victims are yet to get compensation although certain initiatives were taken by the government, international brands and garment owners, he said.
The envoy also said many factory owners have not yet implemented the new minimum monthly wage of Tk 5,300 for workers, a raise of 77 percent which was supposed to be enforced from December 1 last year.
A number of trade unions were formed in the last few months, which Hanna termed a good sign, but he said challenges still remain as many owners still have a negative attitude towards trade unionism.
On factory inspection, Hanna said factory owners will have to address the flaws that the inspectors will identify. Factories must be shut if the inspection finds any major irregularities in them, he added.
Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a platform of 27 North American retailers, will start factory inspection from March 12.
In line with a roadmap for factory inspection, Alliance will look into more than 400 factories, while Accord on Fire and Building Safety, a forum of 150 retailers that are mostly European, will inspect around 1,600 units.
When asked whether international retailers, including the European ones, will provide any fund if inspection suggests closure of any garment factories, Hanna said: “I think money is not the problem."
Accord is also working with factory owners to ensure that funds are available for workplace safety, he added.
Jamie Terzi, country director of CARE in Bangladesh, said they are working with around 1,800 garment workers of 285 factories under the SEEMA project.
Bangladesh is now the second largest garment exporter after China. The country has around 4,000 active garment factories, employing nearly 3.6 million people, 80 percent of whom are women, according to Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Garment exports accounted for 80 percent or $21.5 billion of the country's total overseas shipments worth $27 billion in fiscal 2012-13, according to Export Promotion Bureau.