EU seeks to read new labour law
The European Union yesterday said it wants to look into Bangladesh's amended labour law as EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht is set to host a meeting in Geneva next week to discuss trade privileges.
The Geneva meeting comes after US President Barack Obama has suspended duty waiver for Bangladesh under a scheme known as Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).
“A decision to withdraw the EU GSP for Bangladesh must be avoided, as it would have far-reaching consequences for jobs and for the economy,” the EU said in a statement.
European ambassadors sat at a meeting of the Local Consultative Group in Dhaka, urging the government to share the draft of the amended labour law with them so they could suggest corrective measures.
The new law -- now waiting to be passed in parliament -- hit some buzz of controversy after labour leaders questioned some changes saying they will make the labour conditions worse.
A finance ministry official said the European envoys do not want to see trade privileges revoked. “However, they urged the government to share the proposed labour law with them so that no such situation is created in future,” he said.
The EU ambassadors said their main concern was how to build a better environment for garment workers in Bangladesh.
The meeting, held at the National Economic Council auditorium, was co-chaired by Economic Relations Division Secretary Abul Kalam Azad and UN Resident Coordinator Neal Walker.
At the meeting, ERD officials presented the present status of three laws including the labour law.
Azad said the labour law has been approved by the cabinet and placed in parliament. At this stage, he added, the scope for sharing the draft is small but he would still convey the EU ambassadors' wish to the government.
After the disasters in Tazreen Fashions and Rana Plaza, factory owners and the government had pledged to take steps to improve labour standards.
The EU officials had sought details from their respective embassies in Dhaka on the implementation of those commitments and pledges.
The EU said it will stay engaged with Bangladesh in improving labour standards, according to the statement.
Its Trade Commissioner De Gucht will hold a high-level meeting in Geneva on July 8. Garment factory owners, trade union leaders and some leading buyers will attend the meeting, which will focus on labour rights, safety and health at work and responsible business conduct.
Gucht met Foreign Minister Dipu Moni on May 28 on how to address factory disasters in Bangladesh, while avoiding hardship for its citizens.
“Both sides agreed that the key to a lasting improvement lies in the engagement of all actors in the supply chain,” the statement said.
The EU aims to “uphold fundamental human rights, of which adhering to core labour standards is an intrinsic part”.
The GSP provided by the EU benefits all products from Bangladesh under its 'everything but arms' scheme.
The EU wishes to remain engaged with Bangladesh so that it can preserve the preferential access to the EU market, which has greatly helped socio-economic development over the years, according to the statement.
The ILO will monitor progress in the joint efforts by stakeholders in improving the labour conditions in Bangladesh this year and throughout 2014. “The EU will follow this process closely.”
Bangladesh exports about $11 billion merchandise duty-free to European markets a year, with 90 percent coming from garments alone.
The EU accounts for 60 percent of garment exports out of Bangladesh, and the US comes in second at 30 percent.