The Sustainability Compact first came about following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in April 2013, when the Government of Bangladesh, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the European Union and the United States engaged in a joint initiative known as “Compact for Continuous Improvements in Labour Rights and Factory Safety in the Ready-Made Garment and Knitwear Industry in Bangladesh”.
The global trade union movement has been monitoring closely the Bangladesh’s follow-up to the commitments made in the Compact for more than four years. In that time, it has provided comprehensive data and analysis to the 3+5 Group to assist it in monitoring the implementation of the Bangladesh Sustainability Compact. Each year it has become clearer that the government is failing to meet its commitments.
Despite public scrutiny, the government has done nothing to improve conditions of the more than 4 million garment workers and the many millions of workers in other sectors. For this reason, we believe it is time to initiate a GSP investigation.
At present, Bangladesh benefits from the “Everything But Arms” Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) scheme, which affords it tariff- and quota-free access to the European market for all products except arms and ammunition. The European Union requires that GSP beneficiary countries respect international human rights standards, including core labour rights. This is not the case in Bangladesh.
Examples of Bangladesh’s reluctance to live up to the promises outlined in the Bangladesh Sustainability Compact include their refusal to make amendments to the Bangladesh Labour Act of 2006, even after committing to do so in 2013 following the Rana Plaza disaster.
The Bangladeshi government is also culpable of fostering a hostile environment towards worker organisation and trade unions. Violence against trade unionists continues to be a serious problem in the country. In December 2016, at least 26 trade unionists and garment workers were jailed for trade union activity in Bangladesh, following basic demands to increase the minimum wage. Today, although they have been released, they still face charges for seeking this basic right.
Additionally, it has been widely observed that occupational health and safety remains greatly compromised. The government has failed to hire the number of factory inspectors cited in the Sustainability Compact, and those who have been hired as inspectors lack the necessary qualifications to properly carry out such a task.
As stipulated in the conditions of the GSP, failure to live up to core labour and human rights should trigger an investigation which in turn could lead to a suspension of preferential access to the EU market, if the beneficiary country fails to react and rectify their wrongdoing. It is the view of industriAll Europe, and its partners, that even the initiation of a GSP investigation by the European Union could encourage the Bangladeshi government to bring its practices into line. Should this be insufficient, sanctions by way of tariffs should be rightly re-imposed.
IndustriAll Europe urges the European institutions to take concrete action to ensure implementation of the Bangladesh Sustainability Compact. Read the full Joint Declaration by industriAll Europe, ITUC, ETUC, UNI Global Union, UNI Europa and IndustriALL Global Union.