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More action needed from Bangladesh Government

17 July, 2014The Bangladesh government must dramatically increase efforts to create a safe and sustainable garment industry, says IndustriALL Global Union in the wake of a damning evaluation of the Sustainability Compact.

The Compact was signed a year ago between the ILO, EU and Bangladesh government after the Rana Plaza disaster that killed over 1,100 factory workers. With it, Bangladesh committed to widespread reforms on protection of labour rights, fire and building safety and corporate responsibility.

A joint evaluation of the Compact by IndustriALL, UNI Global Union and ITUC has found the Bangladesh Government has largely failed to implement the Compact, despite substantial financial and technical support from a number of foreign governments and the ILO.

IndustriALL’s general secretary, Jyrki Raina, said:

“We remain determined to make this industry safe and sustainable but we need to see more action from the government, with the rights to freedom of association upheld.”

The evaluation found that the inability of workers to organize and bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of work meant that gains in building and fire safety would not be sustainable, leading to further tragedies.

Alarmingly, the attitude of the government towards unions seems to be only deteriorating.

In June 2014, IndustriALL’s general secretary, Jyrki Raina, wrote to the Bangladesh Prime Minister criticizing incendiary remarks made by his Commerce Minister, Tofail Ahmed. The minister had attacked trade union leaders for allegedly providing foreign governments with information criticizing the labour situation in Bangladesh, and threatened to take steps against them.

“Such a threat of retaliation by a spokesperson of the Bangladeshi government is shocking behaviour, particularly in the current context in Bangladesh where violent acts of retaliation against trade unionists continue. In specifically naming a number of Bangladeshi trade union leaders, the Minister has put their safety at risk, sending a clear signal to employers and other actors that violence is an acceptable response to legitimate trade union activity,” wrote Raina. 

However, despite the damning critique of the Sustainability Compact, there has been progress in Bangladesh since Rana Plaza. More than 180 global clothing brands have signed the Bangladesh Accord, a legally binding agreement on fire and building safety. The Accord inspection team has surveyed more than half of  the 1,600 factories supplying garments to Accord signatories, with inspections on target to be completed by October.

Furthermore, intensive efforts by IndustriALL’s Bangladeshi affiliates have succeeded in organizing more than 50,000 workers in 150 factories.

Meanwhile, the campaign to raise the minimum wage from US$67 continues, following union gains in securing an increase from US$38 in 2013.