The Bangladesh garment industry says it has made visible progress on labour and safety issues, despite criticism this week from unions that much still needs to be done. 

The Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) held a press conference early this week to brief the media about developments made in the apparel sector since the signing of the Sustainability Compact following the Rana Plaza disaster in April 2013. 

The pact was set up between the European Union and the Bangladesh government with the support of the International Labour Organization (ILO) with the aim of improving labour rights and health and safety in the country's ready-made garment sector.

However, The International Trade Union Confederation, IndustriAll and Uni Global Union this week criticised the country's government's efforts so far to comply with the Compact.

"Far too much remains to be done by the government of Bangladesh and the garment industry, not only to ensure fire and building safety but to simply guarantee basic respect for the law – including both national and international labour standards," the unions said following an evaluation.

Their report claims there have been more than 100 cases of anti-union discrimination in factories where new trade unions have been registered, and criticises the government for failing to guarantee freedom of association.

It also questions the rigour of factory inspections made by the Bangladesh national tripartite committee. While this group immediately declared 80% of the factories within its remit to be safe, inspections by the Bangladesh Accord and the Alliance found critical issues in every single factory.

They have called on the EU to use its preferential Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) trade scheme with Bangladesh to secure "meaningful and immediate improvements".