Garment workers and their trade unions are under severe repression in Bangladesh. Photo: IndustriALL/Abir Abdullah

EU must hold Bangladesh to account over labour violations

10.05.2017

Global trade unions are demanding the European Union holds Bangladesh to account over labour violations ahead of a key meeting to evaluate the Bangladesh Sustainability Compact on 18 May in Dhaka. 

The Compact was founded between the European Union (EU), the Government of Bangladesh, the United States, Canada and the ILO to improve labour rights and factory safety in the garment industry, after more than 1,100 workers were killed in the the Rana Plaza factory collapse on 24 April 2013.

However, in a scathing assessment four years on, global trade unions, including IndustriALL, the ITUC, and UNI, have slammed the compact’s performance as labour rights in Bangladesh continue to deteriorate.

In the document, released this month, the unions say:

“In sum, despite the Sustainability Compact, despite millions donated in international assistance towards improving industrial relations and even the efforts of some brands, the government has demonstrated beyond any doubt that continued dialogue mechanisms have failed and will do little if anything to improve conditions of the more than four million garment workers and the many millions more in other sectors.”

Furthermore, global unions are demanding the EU launch an investigation into the GSP status of Bangladesh, which allows trade preferences with Europe on condition the country meets certain labour standards.

Year on year, the Bangladesh government has failed to meet its commitments to the compact. This situation worsened further with the arbitrary arrest and detention of at least 35 trade union activists and workers in December last year. More than 1,600 garment workers were dismissed and union leaders threatened and intimidated by police. An IndustriALL campaign helped to secure the release of the detainees, but the charges still remain.

The assessment also found that compact commitments on freedom of association and collective bargaining have not been met, with half of all union registrations denied. In addition, the government has still failed to hire the necessary number of factory inspectors cited in the compact. Meanwhile, the government has continuously ignored unions’ complaints over hazardous working conditions in shipbreaking and leather tanneries.

IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary, Jenny Holdcroft, said:

“The European Union is Bangladesh’s most important trading partner. It must not and cannot turn a blind eye to the deteriorating conditions for workers and trade unions in the country. An investigation into Bangladesh’s preferential trading status with the EU would send a powerful message to the government of Bangladesh to clean up its act.”

Read the assessment here