Bangladesh needs to step up its efforts to prevent the exploitation of textile workers, MEPs say in a resolution adopted on Wednesday.
Textile workers in Bangladesh, many of whom are young women, suffer long working hours, low wages, uncertainty and hazardous conditions. Trade union leaders are often persecuted.
The 2013 Sustainability Compact, aimed at preventing tragedies like the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, has resulted in moderate improvements in workplace safety, but respect of workers' rights is lagging behind, MEPs note in a non-binding resolution adopted by a show of hands.
Reviewing the implementation of the 2013 Compact, MEPs suggest a series of measures:
- The government of Bangladesh should swiftly amend the 2013 Labour Act so as to ensure freedom of association, collective bargaining and to recruit more factory inspectors,
- The mandate of the “ACCORD”, a platform including EU companies that help to implement the Compact, should be renewed after its expiry of May 2018 and international brands ought to take their CSR policy more seriously to ensure decent working conditions, and
- The EU Commission should table an EU-wide legislative initiative on the garment sector for a due diligence system
Chair of the INTA Committee, Bernd Lange (S&D, DE) said: “Despite some progress in recent years, the situation on the ground remains worrisome. We are very concerned about the lack of meaningful progress in implementing the commitments of the Sustainability Compact by Bangladesh. Countries, which disrespect fundamental rights at work, should not be encouraged by benefitting from unrestricted access to our market. The government of Bangladesh will need to demonstrate that it is willing and able to deliver on its own promises and the demands of the international community.”
Standing rapporteur for South Asia, Sajjad Karim (ECR, UK) said: "EU trade policy is our soft power. But it's very powerful and based on values, meaning we demand our trading partners respect core principles in the areas of human, labour and environmental rights. I have done all I can as Chair of the INTA Monitoring Group for South Asia to get Bangladesh to comply. It seems they are not listening. We cannot keep issuing appeals and statements every year - we have to see tangible results on the ground for privileged market access to be continued."
Bangladesh benefits from the most favourable regime under the EU's trade preferences that grants duty and quota-free access to the EU market, except on arms and ammunition. In July 2013, in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy, the EU took the initiative of launching a Sustainability Compact for Bangladesh to improve labour rights and factory safety. The initiative brings together the EU, the government, the USA, Canada - the main markets for Bangladeshi garment production - as well as the International Labour Organisation. The EU is Bangladesh's main trading partner, absorbing 46.7% of its exports in 2015. It is the world’s second largest garment producer, with the textile sector providing almost 81% of total exports; almost 60 % of the clothing goes to the EU. A delegation of the International Trade Committee visited Bangladesh on a fact-finding mission in November 2016.