German envoy stresses coordination in factory safety efforts
German Ambassador Albrecht Conze yesterday pointed out six specific challenges in the apparel sector that should be resolved for sustainability.
Bangladesh suffered a severe crisis of reputation with the Rana Plaza collapse, while Germany was concerned with worker safety issues.
Had the European Union suspended the generalised system of preferences (GSP) benefit, the tangible effects would have been higher than the US as Bangladeshi garment products enjoy zero-duty to the EU under the GSP scheme, he said.
“The EU is watching the situation as there is a reputation problem,” he said.
Firstly, there is a lack of coordination among signatories for fire and building safety agreements, which many people are not aware of, Conze said.
After the Rana Plaza collapse, the government signed the National Action Plan (NAP), European retailers signed an accord, and US retailers signed a separate agreement.
There were some other agreements like Compact, a joint initiative of the government and the EU under the auspices of International Labour Organisation (ILO), for fire and building safety in Bangladesh's garment sector.
“All these have produced a lot of papers. But the problem is in implementation even when funds are not a problem. There is a lack of coordination in the implementation of so many agreements,” Conze said at a roundtable on workplace safety in the garment sector, at BRAC Centre Inn in Dhaka.
Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung of Germany organised the roundtable of garment makers, experts and labour leaders.
The second challenge is in the separating domestic issues from international ones, Conze said. “The accord and the alliance have nothing to do with current issues like the minimum wage hike
and trade union. These are Bangladeshi issues. These issues should be separated.”
According to Conze, the third and most critical challenge for the sector is the political transition of government as the date for the next general election is nearing soon.
The labour, foreign and commerce secretaries of Bangladesh should hold regular meetings with representatives of the EU, US and donor agencies led by local consultative groups, so that the safety standard issue is not left out.
The fourth challenge is in using the big NGOs during the crisis. Many people do not like involving the NGOs in solving a crisis although Bangladesh is a leading NGO country, he said.
Brac and Grameen Bank, two established and respected institutions, should be used during this period to improve the sector, Conze said.
On involving the NGOs in the garments sector, he mentioned Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus' solidarity with garment workers across the globe to improve their deplorable condition.
The confrontational perception in trade union is the fifth challenge for the garments sector in Bangladesh, he said. “There is a general need to strengthen trade unionism in the country. A lot of work has to be done for res-ponsible trade unionism in Bangladesh.”
The final challenge is little education for the members of the Bangladesh Garment Manu-facturers and Exporters Asso-ciation and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association. “Those who understand better deals, better markets and better product quality, should also maintain good business standards.”
Presenting the keynote paper, Syed Sultan Uddin Ahammed, assistant executive director of BILS, said the whole society was affected by the Rana Plaza collapse when the focus of the world was on Bangladesh.