BANGLADESH: Human rights "tumbled backwards" last year
Despite a raft of measures introduced last year to protect workers in Bangladesh after a series of factory deaths, human rights "tumbled backwards" and "fell far short of international standards," labour activists say.
The annual World Report from Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices around the globe, summarising key issues in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide.
Its critique of Bangladesh largely focuses on wider abuses centered around political unrest, the government crackdown on protestors, the media, and opponents in the run-up to this year's parliamentary elections, and its failure to stem the cycle of violence by ordering investigations into violations by security forces.
There is also concern over the government's increasing intolerance of dissent, going to extreme extents to suppress opposition and criticism.
However, the report also says that despite "promises of improvements" following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in April with the deaths of over 1,100 workers, conditions remain "largely unreformed."
It notes that changes to the Labour Act in July failed to lift a number of other restrictions on freedom of association - and provided exemptions to export processing zones where most garments are made. Likewise, plans for more regular factory inspections were due to start in September, but remained stalled by administrative delays.
Bangladesh is also criticised for the "highly toxic working conditions" faced by tannery workers in the Hazaribagh neighborhood of Dhaka, described as "one of the world's most polluted urban sites."
Some 150 leather tanneries operate in the area, Human Rights Watch says, producing leather primarily for export and discharging 21,000 cubic metres of untreated effluent into the nearby Buriganga River each day.
The government's planned relocation of the tanneries to a dedicated industrial zone, delayed numerous times since 2005, was again put off in mid-2013, the group says.
And while the Department of the Environment for the first time in 2013 fined two tanneries for failing to treat waste, "enforcement of environmental and labour laws is other- wise lacking, with negative consequences for the health and well-being of tannery workers and local residents."
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