Rights activists at a discussion here on Sunday came down hard on the US threat to withdraw the GSP facility to Bangladesh on the pretext of labour rights, saying ‘it would not help workers either’.
Speaking at a session of the US-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue on ‘Best Practices and Benefits from Improving Labour Rights’, they also observed that the ‘unethical buying’ practices by the global brands that have a significant bearing on the standards of occupational safety, wages of readymade garment (RMG) workers of the country, and that pressures should be mounted on the brands to shoulder some responsibility in this regard.
They recommended a multi-stakeholder initiative, involving governments, brands, manufacturers and workers, to resolve the crisis over the violation of labour rights in Bangladesh’s RMG sector.
The dialogue was organised by the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) at its headquarters.
Referring to US government’s threat to withdraw the GSP (generalised system of preference) facility, International Labour Organisation (ILO) substitute member Roy Ramesh Chandra said: “Please think twice before withdrawing the GSP. It’ll not help workers… Instead, use your influence on the buyers to work for the improvement of the conditions.”
Governments, multinational buyers, cloth manufacturers and workers must sit together to frame a comprehensive, integrated, unified plan of action for the needed improvement in the country’s RMG sector, and the buyers and the manufacturers must place funds to implement it under an independent supervisory committee, he recommended.
Roy also stressed the correction of unethical buying practices of some brands that have impacts on the otherwise impoverished and insecure state of the workers in the sector.
It has been observed that some brands are in a habit of threatening to withdraw orders when they are not satisfied with the prices of the products. “Multinational companies, brands, buyers are not paying the right prices of products,” he added.
Roy also noted that the very same time US government is threatening the GSP withdrawal, some of the major US apparel brands, including Walmart, Gap and Sears, doing business with Bangladesh have not yet signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, propounded by the IndustriAll Global Union.
So far, 40 multinationals, including H&M, Inditex, C&A, Primark, Tesco, PVH and Tchibo, as well as more than 1,000 supplier factories have signed the accord.
In his keynote presentation, Bangladesh Trade Union Centre (BTUC) general secretary Wajed-ul-Islam Khan brought in the issue of the lack of government initiative to ensure labour rights, including the right to safe environment, proper wages and association.
“The state has failed to develop an effective labour inspection system with the increase of factories and number of workers,” he said.
The government must take steps to formulate a national safety plan, uphold and protect trade union rights, ensure social security to workers and, above all, change the mindset to accept that the workers are integral part of development, he suggested.
Wajed further said the recently proposed amendment to the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 still does not comply with the International Labour Standards as such.
Roy Ramesh Chandra of ILO also echoed Wajed’s concern, recommending further revision of the law to appropriate it in line with the global standard.
The discussion was co-chaired by deputy assistant secretary of the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Karen Hanrahan and DCCI former president Asif Ibrahim.