As we mark the second anniversary since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh, which claimed 1,129 lives, progress on labour and safety issues has been made, while further improvements have to be achieved. This was highlighted by the Commission's Bangladesh Sustainability Compact report, published today.
The EU's trade relations with Bangladesh and the importance of the ready-made garment industry to the country's development gave the EU – as by far Bangladesh's largest export market including for textiles – a special responsibility to act. Therefore, the EU forged together with Bangladesh, the US and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Sustainability Compact in July 2013. Since then, much progress has been made, as the Compact committed the Government of Bangladesh, in cooperation with the EU, the US, the ILO and the private sector to bring about the necessary changes in the garment sector.
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission said: "The Rana Plaza disaster will remain a dark page for Bangladesh and the international community. The Sustainability Compact has tried to bring together all partners – public and private - necessary for quick and effective action. Some progress has been achieved, but the full implementation of the Compact remains indispensable to promote labour rights and to ensure safe working conditions in Bangladesh. At a time when the Country is confronted with severe political and social challenges, the Sustainability Compact has the potential for setting an example on how to address the basic needs and legitimate expectations of the people of Bangladesh. It is essential that this potential is brought to fruition".
Commemorating the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Trade said: "Remembrance of this terrible tragedy has a double purpose. We remember in order to show our respect for victims, but we also do it to show we have learned from the past. We have come a long way since the disaster but much remains to be done. For instance, the Bangladeshi government must implement the 2013 labour law reforms without delay. As we move forward in improving human and labour rights, I hope that Bangladesh can continue to benefit from preferential access to the EU market under the Everything-But-Arms initiative."
Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility added: "Decent working and living conditions are a pre-requisite for sustainable economic growth and prosperity all along our supply chains. We remain fully committed to protect worker's rights and make workplaces safer, including in Bangladesh. In a globalised world, united efforts are needed and we will continue to promote better labour conditions in cooperation with our partners and in global fora such as the G7 and the G20."
Neven Mimica, Commissioner in charge of International cooperation and Development further added: "People in Bangladesh as well as in other partner countries need decent jobs. Through our development support, the European Union fosters inclusive and sustainable growth that gives people access to jobs that fully respect existing international labour standards, ensure adequate working conditions and environmental protection. The Commission is also reflecting how we can create incentives for partner countries as well as the private sector for a responsible management of the supply chain in which all actors abide by those standards and principles"
Since the Sustainability Compact, certain improvements regarding freedom of association and collective bargaining have been incorporated in Bangladesh's labour law. Over 300 new garment industry trade unions have been registered, which has more than doubled the total number compared to prior to the Compact. Also, over 2,500 safety inspections based on commonly agreed standards have been carried out in garment factories. More than 250 inspectors have been trained and deployed and their findings are made publicly available. Remedial actions are taken where shortcomings have been identified. Overall, the conditions for workers' safety and health are improving.
Despite these achievements, much more must be done. The EU renews its expectation towards Bangladesh's authorities to ensure that the outstanding areas of the Compact are implemented in law and in practice. The Government of Bangladesh must make sure that the rules and regulations required for implementation of the Bangladesh Labour Act as amended in 2013 are adopted as a matter of urgency. Further amendments to the labour law, consistent with ILO Conventions and recommendations, also need to be pursued. Meanwhile, the Export Processing Zones (EPZ) law needs to be swiftly amended to ensure that workers in the zones are afforded labour rights commensurate to those provided in the national labour law. The Government of Bangladesh should also guarantee effective, expedient, and transparent investigation and prosecution of unfair labour practices while continuing to ensure that union registration processes are concluded timely and in due process.
The Commission's Bangladesh Sustainability Compact report published today explains in detail the progress made and the steps that still need to be taken in line with the Compact commitments. Furthermore, the EU has issued a joint statement together with the US to mourn the victims, encourage further progress on the implementation of the Compact commitments and offer their continued support.
It is clear that Bangladesh's reform in response to this tragedy can set an example for the world and be a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in Rana Plaza and in other recent tragedies in the country.
For further information:
Bangladesh Sustainability Compact - European Commission's technical status report