US rights group moves to cancel GSP facility for Bangladesh
A US-based rights group has made a move seeking cancellation of GSP, a system that favours Bangladeshi garment export, alleging the country does not allow labour rights in export processing zones.
However, Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (Bepza) says the move is based on falsehoods.
Bepza has drafted a position paper to help the government fight a petition the rights body filed with the United States Trade Representatives (USTR) on October 4.
The rights group -- American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) -- has been lobbying for cancellation of GSP facilities for many years.
Though GSP (generalised system of preferences) facilities do not offer a lot of benefit to Bangladesh, its cancellation would confirm AFL-CIO's claims that labour rights are violated in Bangladesh.
"The complaint of absence of workers rights in the EPZs is not true as about 177 elected workers representation & welfare committees (WRWCs) are actively working in the EPZs of Bangladesh," said a position paper prepared by Bepza in this regard.
"Bepza does not have any idea regarding intelligence activities and harassment of EPZ workers and representatives of the WRWCs by any law enforcing agencies," the paper said.
Bepza believes that the first phase of implementation of the EPZ Workers Association and Industrial Relations Act 2004 has been successfully completed, and implementation of second phase of the act is going on with due importance.
Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA) in a paper said the industry does not have even a single child worker at its processing units across the country.
The association is also not aware of any incidents of repression on workers in the industry, and it never faced any workers agitation in the sector, said the paper submitted to the government.
In its petition, AFL-CIO made four complaints which included violation of domestic and internationally recognised workers rights in EPZs, violation of domestic labour laws and internationally recognised labour standard in readymade garments industry, similar violations in shrimp and fish processing industries, and harassment and violence by government security forces against trade unions, workers and labour rights groups.
Bangladesh Garment Manufactures and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) and BFFEA submitted to the commerce ministry their replies regarding these complaints.
The fisheries and livestock ministry also gave its views to the commerce ministry.
These have already been sent to the Bangladesh mission at Washington, which will compile these and submit to the USTR by September 21 next.
A high level team comprising representatives from the ministries of foreign affairs, commerce and fisheries and livestock, Bepza, BGMEA, BKMEA and BFFEA will visit Washington to participate in the hearing on the petition to be held on October 4.
The government has engaged the BGMEA lobbyist firm to lobby with the USTR in this regard.
BGMEA President Anwarul Alam Chowdhury said although Bangladeshi apparel sector or any major sectors do not enjoy GSP facilities from US, if the USTR takes the petition into consideration and gives any decision against Bangladesh, it will seriously hamper Bangladesh's export interests in US.
Such a decision may give a wrong signal to US traders as well as consumers about use of Bangladeshi products, he noted.