The US, Canada, the European Union and the International Labour Organisation yesterday said Bangladesh made a remarkable progress in workplace safety over the last two and a half years, but it needed to improve labour rights.
“We [the Sustainability Compact Partners] made a remarkable progress in workplace safety, fire, remediation, electrical and structural safety. That is undisputed,” said Michael J Delaney, assistant trade representative of the US for South Asia, at the second Sustainability Compact meeting at Westin Hotel in Dhaka.
“But less progress has been made in workers' rights and trade union registration,” Delaney told a joint press conference after the meeting.
After the twin industrial disasters -- Tazreen Fashions fire and Rana Plaza building collapse -- Bangladesh signed the ILO-brokered Sustainability Compact with the EU, the country's largest export destination, committing responsible business behaviour in Geneva in July 2013.
Later, the US joined the group. In the second meeting, Canada also joined the Compact yesterday.
The first meeting was held in Geneva in 2014.
In Dhaka yesterday, European Commission Director Sandra Gallina praised the country's progress in ensuring workplace safety following the Rana Plaza disaster, which claimed 1,138 lives, mostly workers, after the building collapsed on April 24, 2013.
“I can say two words -- long-term and together. We are here to stay in Bangladesh and to stay long,” she added.
“We have achieved a lot. We are proud. Compact is a long-term scheme. We have promoted labour law and this is praiseworthy. I am grateful that the government amended the labour law,” Gallina said.
“This is the right time to join the Compact,” Benoit-Pierre Laramee, the Canadian High Commissioner in Bangladesh, said after joining the league of the Compact partners.
Dan Cunniah, a special adviser to the ILO, said, “The government has made a lot of efforts to achieve the objectives. The parties (the Compact partners) have the willingness and are determined to move forward.
“Still there are some issues like labour rights and freedom of association, including in the factories inside of the EPZs [Export Promotion Zones].
“The registration of trade unions should be made simpler and the labour abuse should be stopped.”
Rob Wayss, executive director of Bangladesh Operations of the Accord, a platform of more than 200 European retailers and brands, said some factory owners refused to remediate as per the recommendations by the engineers. Those factories cannot do business with the legally binding Accord members.
Pierre Mayaudon, ambassador and the head of delegation of the EU in Bangladesh, said $200 million soft loan was ready for factory remediation and the government should come forward with policy support for using the fund.
At the meeting, the Compact partners adopted six steps to ensure workplace safety and labour rights in Bangladesh.
“We could adopt the six steps in consensus. Nobody differed on the progresses,” said Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed.
“We have urged the international retailers and brands to increase the prices for garment items so that the garment makers can spend more money for factory remediation and for safety purposes,” he said.
Regarding the trade unions, he said currently there were many Workers' Welfare Associations in factories inside EPZs, which functioned as trade unions.