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Bangladesh on track after Rana Plaza: European Union

Bangladesh has made significant improvement in safety standards and workers’ rights in the aftermath of Rana Plaza building collapse, a top official of the European Union said yesterday.

“Things are moving in the right direction. Some are going fast and some are going slow, but we are glad to note that everything is going in the right direction,” he told The Daily Star, asking not to be named.

Following the Rana Plaza tragedy, the government signed the Sustainability Compact with the EU last year, promising to improve labour, health and safety conditions for workers and encourage responsible behaviour by businesses in the garment sector. Later, the US also joined the compact.

The first review of the progress under the compact took place in Brussels on October 20, and the official was close to the proceedings in the Belgian capital. He said the country has made progress in most of the 16 aspects of the Sustainability Compact.

The government amended the labour law a week after the signing of the compact in Brussels on July 8 last year, a move which went down well with the EU, he said.

The EU also pleased by the spike in trade unions in the garment sector, according to the official.  Over the last one and a half years, the government has allowed registration of 236 trade unions. The government also converted the Directorate of Inspection for Factories and Establishment (DIFE) into a standalone department with enhanced mandate, resources and personnel.

The review panel also praised the launch of the project “Improving working conditions in the readymade garment sector in Bangladesh” with support from the Netherlands, Canada and the United Kingdom and the preparations for the International Labour Organisation’s Better Work Programme Bangladesh.

It also praised the adoption of a National Occupational Safety and Health policy and the minimal recommendations for factory closure by the engineers of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

Around 2,000 factories were inspected by the two platforms and the government and as of October 15, 29 factories were shut down for safety concerns and parts of 17 factories. Many factories have undertaken remediation efforts to improve safety condition, another development which was praised by the review panel.

The EU also appreciated the elimination of customs duties and other charges on import of fire resistance doors, sprinkler systems and equipment, emergency light and steel materials for factory buildings to reduce the cost of compliance with fire safety standards.

The launch of a publicly accessible database containing reports of labour, fire and building safety inspections by the ministry of labour and employment was also spoken of in positive light in the review.

 “The progresses are quite impressive. But we want to see the implementation of amended labour law. We can work jointly for the success of the garment sector,” the official said.

Meanwhile, he said the economic union will allow duty-free access for Bangladeshi products even if the country graduates from the least-developed country bracket.

“The EU will extend GSP plus to Bangladesh whenever it graduates to the middle-income country bracket, so there is nothing to worry about.”

Report: Refayet Ullah Mirdha
Source: Daily Star

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