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RMG sector in Bangladesh: One year on from tragic Rana Plaza collapse

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h_50804486The ready made garment (RMG) industry of Bangladesh came under global focus last year, but under very tragic circumstances.

Just a month ago was the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse when more than 1,100 people were killed and 2,500 were injured when a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed.

Ismat Jahan, the Bangladesh ambassador to the EU, said that such commemoration events are "important opportunities for reflections and stock taking".

She added: "What went wrong , what can and must be done and where we stand? The Rana Plaza tragedy as well as the Tazreen fire tragedy have no doubt left indelible scar in our collective memory. This has however , acted as a wake-up call, although one must admit that it came at a very high cost with the loss of many valuable lives."

She said there is now a growing national reawakening in Bangladesh that much needs to be done to improve factory safety and labour rights in the RMG sector which accounts for more than 80% of the country´s exports and provides employment to 4 million people, mostly women.

"There are many and varied challenges to ensure a safe and sustainable RMG industry and the Bangladesh government is determined to address these challenges with the cooperation and support from relevant stakeholders."

She said Bangladesh is partnering with International labour Organization (ILO), the European Union and other development partners, including the UK, Canada, the Netherlands in taking "concrete" actions towards definite and measurable outcomes in addressing the safety, security and labour issues in the RMG sector.

"There has been "notable progresses made during the past year and the recent statement of the EU Trade Commissioner’s spokesperson on the occasion of the first anniversary of Rana Plaza building collapse acknowledged that the EU has seen significant progress in the areas of occupational safety and health and in the improved respect for labour rights in Bangladesh."

The diplomat added: "Bangladesh deeply values the support that it has been receiving from the EU as a development partner. Bangladesh benefits from the EBA (preferred trading area) arrangement it enjoys in the EU market. This has contributed significantly to enhance RMG as the main export item to Europe in the post-MFA period.

"Therefore, should the RMG sector suffer, a sizable portion of development gains in Bangladesh would be at risk. At the same time, the success of EBA in Bangladesh, as a EU foreign policy tool for socio-economic uplift and empowerment of women, can be showcased. It would therefore, be to the mutual interest of Bangladesh and the EU to see the unfettered continuation of EBA facility.

"To this end, Bangladesh has welcomed any such initiatives which promote engagement with the EU to ensure safe working conditions and improved labour rights in the RMG factories. In similar vein, Bangladesh would also expect the EU to play a proactive role in ensuring ‘fair pricing’ of its RMG exports including through further engagement of the brands.

"It is reported that unit price of garment import from Bangladesh has gone down significantly since the Rana Plaza collapse at a time when manufacturers are now compelled to pay much more in terms of higher wages, transport and utility charges. While a rise in wages is logical, at the same time the declining trend of pricing of RMG products from Bangladesh must be addressed resolutely. Otherwise the effort of improving the working condition in the factories would not be sustainable in the long run. It is also imperative for private initiatives to fulfill their obligation following the closure of factories which are found unsafe after inspection. They must be forthcoming in paying their share in the lost wages of the laid off workers. This is all about working in concert to improve safety and change the lives of the workers who produce for them. "

It is estimated that following the closure of 16 factories so far, some 18,000 workers have turned jobless overnight.

She said that the EU may encourage brands and retailers to make necessary provisions for sharing the costs of renovation of the factories from where they source in.

"This would ensure timely and safe reopening of the closed factories."

"The improvement of working conditions would be largely incomplete if the present initiatives fail to incorporate sub-contractor factories under the corrective measures. There is an apparent lack of understanding among all stakeholders in this regard. The private initiatives are concerned about only those factories from which they directly imports which stands at merely 2,000 factories .Thus a significant numbers of factories out of the total 4,000 active factories would remain beyond the purview of thorough inspection. There is an urgent need to address the situation and improve the working condition and safety issues in all the production units of the RMG supply chains."

The ambassador said: "The Bangladesh Government is steadfast in its commitment to bring about the right kind of changes in the RMG sector in Bangladesh with the continuous support and engagement of all stakeholders and development partners as well social partners. It is a collective endeavour. It is often said that conditions of great adversity bring out the best in people.

"Bangladesh must not falter. It must strive to bring the best out of this situation. There is a need for sustained and resolute partnership to achieve that very goal."

Bangladesh

Safety programme established six years ago in #Bangladesh has saved lives and stopped retaliation across hundreds of factories

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An independent mechanism allowing garment workers to directly raise safety issues is making factories safer and empowering workers to advocate for their own safety, according to a report published by the International Labour Rights Forum. The success of the complaint mechanism run by the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh – trusted by workers for its independence and its effectiveness – is one more reason why the programme should remain in Bangladesh and continue to operate independently until the government and local institutions are ready to take on the task. The next High Court hearing that could determine the future of the Accord is scheduled for this Sunday, 19 May.

On 15 May, 2013, three weeks after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi unions, global union federations, and apparel companies signed an enforceable agreement that holds the signatory brands accountable for safety in the factories where their garments are made. In addition to its robust and independent inspections program, the Accord provides a credible and effective mechanism for workers to raise complaints confidentially with protection against retaliation.

The Accord was established recognizing that inspections are only part of the solution to improving the safety of garment factories and that workers and their unions are in the best position to conduct day-to-day monitoring and reporting on workplaces conditions. The Accord’s complaint mechanism enables workers and their representatives to report concerns about health and safety hazards to an independent institution safely and, if they choose, anonymously.

“The Accord’s complaint mechanism radically reduces the possibility of another Rana Plaza,” says Laura Gutierrez of the Worker Rights Consortium. “The morning of the Rana Plaza collapse, workers who saw cracks in the walls tried to refuse to enter the eight-story building, but were forced to go to their sewing machines under threat of losing their month’s salary. It is clear that the tragedy of Rana Plaza could have been prevented if the workers had had a viable channel to make a complaint or refuse dangerous work.”

The report finds that the Accord’s complaint mechanism:

  • Is a truly independent avenue through which garment workers in Bangladesh are regularly raising concerns of safety violations.

  • Provides responsive and meaningful action and is successful at securing remediation. As a result, workers are increasingly more likely to trust and use the complaint mechanism.

  • Ensures that workers are able to exercise their right to refuse dangerous work.

  • Protects workers from retaliation.

  • Provides apparel brands and retailers with knowledge of factory-level issues that would otherwise go undetected and unreported.

  • Provides a high level of transparency by publicly reporting on all complaints received, with details about their current status and resolution.

  • Reduces potential gender bias in worker participation.

These outcomes stand in stark contrast with the still rudimentary system on the website of the government of Bangladesh’s Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments (DIFE).

“The government’s first attempt at establishing a complaint mechanism does not live up to scrutiny. There is a complaint form and contact information on a website, as well as a mobile app to submit complaints, but these do not allow anonymity. This mechanism reports only 25 received complaints since 2014 of which 13 were resolved, compared to 1,329 complaints received by the Accord during the same time period,” says Christie Miedema of Clean Clothes Campaign. “The Accord has referred many more cases that fell out of its scope to this government institution, which are not reflected on its website and thus appear to have been ignored.”

As this report shows, in addition to the more widely-publicized inspections program of the Accord, the Accord’s complaint mechanism provides an independent and critical tool for day-to-day monitoring of safety conditions by workers. “Thanks to its strong enforcement mechanism, the Accord is able to successfully provide remedy even in cases where workers were complaining about behavior of management. The inherent power imbalance between workers and their employers is why a genuinely independent mechanism with real sanctioning power that can stand up for workers’ rights is so crucial to meaningfully improve working conditions,” said Lynda Yanz of the Maquila Solidarity Network.

“The success of the complaint mechanism shows that, combined with the training program which educates workers on how to report potential safety violations, it is a necessary, life-saving complement to the Accord’s inspections program and a system to be emulated with the same levels of independence, transparency, and legitimacy in other countries and beyond the field of building safety,” said Elena Arengo of the International Labor Rights Forum.

The Accord’s independent inspections, trainings, and complaint mechanism have brought demonstrable changes to workers in Bangladesh and have increased international confidence in the country’s garment industry. With a new High Court ruling on the future of this program due on May 19, the four witness signatories to the Accord are once more stressing the need to continue the independent work of the Accord until the local regulatory mechanism has proven ready.

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Commission delivers on its pledge to support #Rohingya refugees in #Bangladesh

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The European Union has been providing substantial political, development and humanitarian support in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis from the outset. It has so far made available €65 million in humanitarian assistance. With today's additional €15 million in support it delivers on its pledge to assist the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The support will deliver on the medium-term development needs of the refugees and their host communities in the Cox's Bazar region of Bangladesh. It will focus on community development, social cohesion, mitigating risks of tensions, as well as gender equality. On this occasion, International Cooperation and Development Commissioner Neven Mimica said: “Over half of the Rohingya refugees under 18 years of age, and the conflict has left many women having to look after their families alone. So the priority will of this €15 million support package will be on the needs of children, young people, female-headed households and families.” The above-mentioned support measures will help to make these communities more resilient – an approach also recognized by the Global Compact on Refugees, which is expected to be adopted before the end of 2018 and to be subsequently endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly. The EU is committed to help finding a sustainable solution to the Rohingya refugee crisis – it therefore welcomes the World Bank's recent pledge of development support and encourages other development donors to follow suit.

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#Bangladesh: New law must outlaw all marriages involving children, say MEPs

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MEPs note with concern the adoption of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which has loopholes providing for “legal authorisation for child marriage” in Bangladesh, the country with the highest rate of child marriage in Asia. The Act allows exceptions to the minimum age of marriage of 18 for women and 21 for men to be made in “the best interests” of the adolescent in “special cases” but fails to lay down criteria or to make the adolescent’s consent mandatory.

Parliament reaffirms its condemnation of all cases of forced and child marriage and calls on the government of Bangladesh to amend the Act so as to close the loopholes and outlaw all marriages involving children. It is worried by the “step backwards for Bangladesh in its efforts to eliminate child marriage” and urges the government of Bangladesh to commit to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, including ensuring gender equality and women’s rights.

ALDE MEP, Dita Charanzová (ANO, Czech Republic), who asked for this issue to be debated in plenary, said: "Child marriage is a violation of human rights. Bangladesh knows this and has tried to reduce levels of child marriage. However, creating special conditions for children to marry is not a solution. There can be no special cases when it comes to upholding human rights. The Bangladeshi authorities must act now to ensure these exceptions to the ban are clearly defined and very difficult to use."

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