Published in the Independent on 19, May 2017
Bangladesh has pressed for better prices for its readymade garment products for further improvement of the situation with regards to the rights of workers and their safety at workplaces. “When you talk about improvement, you also keep in mind the issue of the fair pricing,” Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed said at the conclusion of the third follow-up meeting on Bangladesh Sustainability Compact involving the government of Bangladesh, the European Union (EU), the United States, Canada and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) at a hotel in the
capital. At a press briefing following the daylong meeting, when questions were asked about the issue, none of the representatives of the EU, US, Canada or ILO seemed interested to answer.
After a while, upon insistence, an apparently reluctant EU ambassador to Dhaka Pierre Mayaudon said that this is a market driven issue and that it is a matter for the buyers and suppliers.
In the presence of Assistant US Trade Representative Mark Linscott and US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, Commerce Minister Tofail said that the Bangladesh side did not intentionally talk about the GSP issue in the TICFA meeting on Wednesday.
“We got a feeling that whatever we do, we will not get the GSP. We are an honourable nation. They (US) have suspended it and now it is their prerogative to take decision on that. We are very happy with the GSP facility we get to the European market,” he said.
Meanwhile, according to Joint Conclusions issued upon the meeting, the compact partners recognised the urgent need to begin inclusive consultations towards the amendment of the Bangladesh Labour Act and associated regulations to address the conclusions and recommendations of the ILO’s supervisory bodies.
They took note of the recent distressing events in Ashulia and renewed the call on all the social partners to act in accordance with the decisions of the tripartite agreement of February 23.
The partners welcomed the formation of Tripartite Consultative Council (TCC) for RMG Sector as an advisory body for industrial relations between the workers and the factory owners.
They also stressed that criminal complaints pending against social partners concerned need to be reviewed urgently to ensure due process of law.
The compact partners noted that the draft EPZ labour law has been withdrawn for further review and that the TCC has been tasked with proposing reforms to the labour act.
They reaffirmed the need to ensure that workers in the EPZs enjoy freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.
The partners recognised the urgent need for promoting responsible business conduct and encouraged brands and retailers to adopt responsible business practices and a uniform code of conduct for factory audits in Bangladesh.
The partners also recognised that progress has been made in several areas of the compact including recent increase in trade union registrations in Dhaka Division, work towards the development of standard operating procedures to better process applications for trade union registration, strengthening of department of inspection for factories and establishment and investment in factory safety with the initial implementation of corrective action plans.
They also noted the introduction of the concept of workplace cooperation and building a culture of occupational safety and health.
But, in their deliberations throughout the day, the heads of the delegations of the compact partners laid emphasis on doing more and urged the government to come up with a clear roadmap with specific timeframe to implement the issues related to labour rights.
On the other hand, the Bangladesh side has argued that they are doing what it takes to keep the readymade garment (RMG) sector safe and secure ensuring the rights of the workers. They also placed greater emphasis on increased prices of the products.