The European Union has affirmed that Bangladesh will continue to have access to a programme which gives privileged access for its garments and other products to the EU market, after a meeting with Bangladesh's foreign minister. 

Europe and Bangladesh have emphasised their "collective determination" to improve labour conditions for Bangladeshi workers in the ready-made garment industry in a meeting between EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni yesterday (28 May).

The two said in a joint statement that the loss of workers' lives in recent factory fires and the collapse of the Rana Plaza building calls for urgency to intensify ongoing efforts to work together in enhancing workers' rights and safety standards to improve the overall work environment and prevent similar tragedies in future. 

The EU and Bangladesh will work to engage all players in the global supply chain - including buyers, brands, governments and consumers, to promote a "fair, ethical and responsible supply chain management across the industry".

While the European Parliament is calling for a review of Bangladesh's access to the generalised system of preferences (GSP), under which Bangladesh exports have duty-free and quota-free access to the EU, the statement emphasised the "important role" GSP has played in improving the lives of workers in Bangladesh.

"We, therefore, pledge to safeguard Everything but Arms benefits through determined action to improve health and occupational safety standards in the export-oriented ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh.

"We urge foreign buyers, in particular European companies, to remain engaged and work with the EU and Bangladesh to support and promote socially responsible supply chains. A dedicated meeting, to that effect, will take place before this summer to consider the related issues," the statement said.

The EU said it is willing and ready to assist Bangladeshi authorities in any way it can to meet the required international standards, while calling on European and international companies to promote better health and safety standards in garment factories in Bangladesh.