Bangladesh has made much progress in workplace safety and labour rights since the signing of the Sustainability Compact last year but more still remains to be done, the European Union said in its one-year review of the agreement.
On July 8 last year, following the Rana Plaza disaster, the country signed the time-bound agreement with the EU and the International Labour Organisation to improve labour, health and safety conditions for workers as well as to encourage responsible behaviour by businesses in the garment sector. Later, the US also joined in the Compact.
“We welcome the serious commitment to deliver marked progress today. We commend those foreign retailers who did stay engaged in Bangladesh,” Karel De Gucht, European trade commissioner, and László Andor, European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, said in a joint statement.
The key achievements in the one year include amendments to the labour law to strengthen fundamental rights at work and registration of 187 new trade unions in the garment industry to take the total number of unions to 323.
“Overall, workers are more aware of their rights and are more ready to assert them,” the EU said in the technical progress report, released on Tuesday.
The increased capacity and manpower of the ministry of labour and the upgraded directorate of inspection of factories and establishments as well as dedicated training on the amended labour law and the country's qualification for the ILO's Better Work Programme has also been highlighted.
The launch of capacity building programmes and ongoing training of victims have also been lauded.
The report also mentioned the common standards agreed for structural building safety assessments, the steps being taken to make information of ongoing factory inspections publicly available.
Some male and female labour inspectors have been recruited and their training is ongoing, the report said. The responsible business conduct private initiatives launched in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy are operational and new companies are joining in, according to the report.
“Despite these notable achievements, […] more must be done to ensure safety and health at work as well as freedom of association and collective bargaining must continue to improve,” the report said.
Inspections of buildings must continue and should be swiftly followed by remediation measures. The extension of the application of the national labour law to the export processing zones (EPZ) must begin and implementing regulations need to be adopted swiftly, the report said.
The cabinet last week approved an amendment to the EPZ law to allow freedom of association in the factories of the economic zones.
Effective steps need to be taken to ensure that new legislation is effectively implemented in practice and that monitoring mechanisms are put in place ensuring sustainability of improvements made, the report said.
In addition, further amendments to the Bangladesh Labour Act are necessary to ensure full compliance with core labour standards.
“It must become easier to establish a trade union and workers must be free to organise and exercise their right to collective bargaining.”
The government must also address reports of denials to register trade unions, anti-trade union discrimination, intimidation and harassment. “In this respect, Bangladesh's readymade garment industry must also keep to its commitments to improve labour rights at the factory level.”
Meanwhile, De Gucht and Andor, in their joint statement, said better labour conditions will support sustainable trade links with many markets, especially the EU.
As the country continues to consolidate its position as a garment manufacturer and exporter, it is bound to pay much more attention to sustainability concerns than ever before, the report said.
By the same token, foreign companies are working differently through their global supply chains and paying more attention to responsible business practices.
“With these two dynamics working in parallel and provided the commitment to better work is unchanged, the memory and dignity of the persons who perished in the Rana Plaza disaster will be upheld.”