Global unionists urge EU to probe GSP for Bangladesh

Dhaka,  Sat,  24 June 2017
Published : 17 May 2017, 21:32:28
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Global unionists urge EU to probe GSP for Bangladesh

Review of Sustainability Compact today
Monira Munni


Global rights groups again called on the European Union to investigate Bangladesh's GSP status as it failed to address the commitments regarding labour issues of Sustainability Compact.

Citing last December's Ashulia incident, they alleged that that Bangladesh showed anti-union behaviour last year.

Industriall Global Union, UNI Global Union and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) with their European affiliates have evaluated the progress made in line with the Compact ahead of its today's (Thursday) review in Dhaka.

Earlier on January 18 last, the groups in a joint letter to the European Parliament made the same call.

The Sustainability Compact was signed among the EU, Bangladesh, the US, Canada and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to improve labour rights and factory safety in the garment industry after the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers in 2013.

"It is time to initiate a GSP (generalised system of preferences) investigation," the report published this month said.

The investigation process is lengthy and provides ample time for the government (Bangladesh) to take the measures necessary to comply with the GSP, said the report.

"It does not take time to, e.g., register unions, investigate anti-union dismissals or to extend the Bangladesh Labour Act to the EPZs. It takes political will. We are also confident that EU-based brands, which benefit from the lower tariff on these goods, would become fully engaged in finding solutions, along with trade unions," they said.

Despite the sustainability compact and international assistance towards improving industrial relations, the government of Bangladesh has demonstrated that continued dialogue mechanisms have failed and will do little if anything to improve conditions of the more than four million garment workers, the report added.

Year on year, Bangladesh has failed to meet its commitments to the compact, according to the report.

This situation worsened further with the arbitrary arrest and detention of at least 35 trade union activists and workers in December last year.

More than 1,600 garment workers were dismissed and union leaders threatened and intimidated by police. An IndustriALL campaign helped secure the release of the detainees, but the charges still remain.

Quoting the ILO 'special paragraph,' the assessment also found that compact commitments on freedom of association and collective bargaining have not been met, with half of all union registrations denied.

In addition, the government has still failed to hire the necessary number of factory inspectors cited in the compact.

The assessment also criticised the national initiative's ongoing garment factory safety measures, saying there is little evidence that the crucial remediation efforts under the national initiative are in process, and the financing of the remediation of the factories under the national effort is unclear.

The ILO has highlighted the need for financing remediation in Bangladeshi factories, which underscored the absence of a strategy to ensure the factories under the national initiative have the necessary funds for the purpose, it added.

Meanwhile, the government has continued to ignore unions' complaints over hazardous working conditions in sectors like ship-breaking, it added.

IndustriALL's assistant general secretary, Jenny Holdcroft, in a statement, said, "The European Union is Bangladesh's most important trading partner. It must not and cannot turn a blind eye to the deteriorating conditions for workers and trade unions in the country. An investigation into Bangladesh's preferential trading status with the EU would send a powerful message to the government of Bangladesh to clean up its act."

Industry people said that this week's compact review meeting and next month's International Labour Conference are crucial for Bangladesh to sustain the EU GSP.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) vice president Mahmud Hasan Khan disagreed with the rights groups' evaluation of worsening situation.

He said the situation had improved in terms of safety and labour rights in the last one year.

    munni_fe@yahoo.com
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