DHAKA: The European Union (EU) has alerted Bangladesh that it could revisit Everything But Arms (EBA) if another tragedy like Rana Plaza takes place or even just the continuation of poor conditions for workers, reports UNB.
“Another tragedy, or even just a continuation of today’s poor conditions for workers, could also force the European Union to revisit Everything But Arms,” said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.
She was addressing a conference titled ‘Remembering Rana Plaza: What Next’ at the European Parliament in Brussels to mark the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza clothing factory disaster. Jean Lambert, member of the EP and chairperson of the delegation for relations with South Asia was also present.
Bangladesh’s export earnings currently stand at above $30 billion, half of which comes from the EU. EU’s ‘Everything But Arms’ arrangement was born in 2001 to give all LDCs full duty- free and quota-free access to the EU for all their exports with the exception of arms and armaments.
The EU Trade Commissioner lauded the progress made by trade unions, businesses and the government of Bangladesh within the framework of the 2013 Sustainability Compact. But she also noted that much more needs to be done to improve the conditions for Bangladesh’s workers.
Cecilia Malmström said the country’s economic future and the conditions of its workers are inextricably linked. “So fully implementing the compact makes good economic sense just as much as it makes good moral sense.”
Malmström said she knows it is not easy and some people believe they have a stake in the status quo. “But I encourage everyone involved in the garment industry to do what they can.”
“We’re here today to remember Rana Plaza. Remembrance has a double purpose. We do it to show our respect for victims, the survivors and their families. And we do it to show we’ve learned from the past. The best way we can do that is by changing our behaviour. And I hope that is exactly what we will do,” said Malmström.
She said all need to see actions on the rights of workers in export processing zones and these zones are positive initiatives to boost growth and development in Bangladesh. “But, to put it simply, they cannot be at the expense of fundamental labour rights.”
The government needs to adopt legislation that ensures rights to workers in the zones are effectively the same as those provided for in the national labour law, said the EU TYrade Commissioner.
“This law has also been pending for some time. Now is the time to move ahead with it.”
She said the steps taken so far would deliver a significant boost to the reform process but they’re not enough. “As far as labour rights are concerned, there’s a room for further reform to the law.”
For example, she said, the law as it stands does not fully comply with ILO conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining. “I hope the government will take this up soon. The results on factory inspections are also only partial.”
Bangladesh has now recruited over 170 inspectors and continues to increase the resources available to the authorities responsible for building and fire safety. “This must continue.”
Bangladeshi authorities must be ready to take the ownership of inspections when the privately-run initiatives end in 2018, she said.
The EU Trade Commissioner said brands and retailers also need to step when it comes to providing compensation funding to the Rana Plaza Trust fund.
“As of today, we’re almost 8.5 million US dollars short of the 30 million dollar target. This money is vital to help those most directly affected get their lives back on track,” she said.
The Trade Commissioner said companies need to step up now, on the second anniversary of this disaster, and transfer what is needed.
“Finally, providing rehabilitation and retraining to the Rana Plaza survivors is a long term, not a short term exercise. So we all also have to continue our efforts on that,” she said.