Bangladesh must do more to protect garment workers

Rights for Bangladesh's 4.2 million garment workers must improve if the country is to maintain its tariff-free access to the EU, Sajjad Karim warned today.

Speaking as the European Parliament approved his Motion for Resolution reviewing the Sustainability Compact between the EU and Bangladesh, Sajjad said a tipping point was close to being reached.

He 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 area of human, labour & environmental rights.

“We have now come to crossroads. Either we see substantial progress in the terms of labour rights or we realise that trade preferences are not in line with our values and might be ultimately revoked.

“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."

Today's resolution acknowledges that progress has been made in improving safety in garment factories since the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka in 2013 which killed 1,129 workers. It also notes that the garment sector is vital for the Bangladesh economy and allows many people, especially women, to move into the formal economy.

But it stresses more needs to be done and expresses concern about the arrest of union leaders and the dismissal of workers protesting about low wages.

The resolution calls on international brands which source garments from Bangladesh to "stay engaged in order to respect labour laws and improve responsible business practices, including decent working conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers."

The garment and textile sector comprises 81 per cent of Bangladesh's exports, with 60 per of its clothing output going to the EU.