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European Commission


Geneva, 8 July 2013

Remarks by EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht on the Launch of a Global Sustainability Compact in response to Bangladesh tragedies

Press Conference, Delegation of the European Union, Geneva

Ladies and gentlemen,

thank you for being here. Time is limited so I shall be brief.

As you are aware, I took the initiative of convening this high-level meeting in Geneva today to reduce the risks of another Rana Plaza-type tragedy happening again in Bangladesh. All of us here today are committed to doing our upmost to prevent such a terrible loss of life in the future.

I would like to thank all the participants for their work and commitment.

Let me be clear: this is the start of a journey together and one that is not going to be easy.

I am pleased that we are able to launch today a major multi-stakeholder "Compact" or agreement to improve labour rights, working conditions and factory safety in the Ready-Made Garment industry in Bangladesh. The Compact commits us – the Government of Bangladesh, the European Union, and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) – to a number of time-bound actions.

Just to outline a few examples:

  • Reforming the Bangladesh Labour Law to strengthen workers’ rights - in particular regarding freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and to improve occupational health and safety. New rules must be in place by as soon as possible after the adoption of the new labour law. The ILO will monitor the effective enforcement of the new legislation.

  • Improving building and fire safety, especially structural safety of buildings and fire safety in ready-made garment factories, by June 2014. The ILO will help to coordinate efforts and mobilise technical resources.

  • Recruiting 200 additional inspectors by the end of 2013, as part of the efforts to ensure regular visits to factories and assess them in terms of working conditions, including occupational safety and health, and compliance with labour laws.

What happened in Bangladesh just over 2 months ago is simply unacceptable. It is our duty to change this situation and quickly.

EU lawmakers and European consumers expect reassurances that Bangladesh is moving in the right direction.

Today´s "Compact" is a key step and we expect the Bangladesh government to continue working closely with ILO, industry and trade unions to improve the day-to-day life for workers.

The first true test of Bangladesh’s commitment will of course be the adoption by its parliament of a revised Labour Law at the end of this week or early next week. The objective is to beef up crucial aspects of the Labour Law - notably freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining as well as improved occupational safety and health.

I expect this revised Labour Law to apply to all workers, including those in Export Processing Zones. It is essential that the workers in such zones enjoy the same rights and working conditions as workers in other parts of Bangladesh.

I realise that this will be a challenging task for Bangladesh. I am fully aware of the need for Bangladesh to receive support. Let me be clear: The EU is ready to help.

Bangladesh also enjoys an extremely favourable trade regime under the EU’s "Everything But Arms" initiative. This is of particular importance for ready-made garments, which represent about 90% of Bangladesh’s exports to the EU. These enter the EU market with no restriction: duty-free and quota-free. These exports to the EU account for about 2.5 million jobs – mostly for women. "Everything But Arms" is therefore a major contributor to job and income generation for millions of people in Bangladesh.

I want to make it clear that Bangladesh - or for that matter any other Least Developed Country - cannot take for granted the trade preferences it currently enjoys.

Under the "Everything But Arms" scheme, the EU may consider appropriate action should there be no, or insufficient progress for Bangladeshi workers.

I would like to add that we have also discussed this “Compact” with our American partners. They are still in the decision-making process on joining the initiative.

Thank you.

For further information

Press release: IP/13/667

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