Bangladeshs government has allegedly failed to put the measures in place to ensure worker safety

Bangladesh's government has allegedly failed to put the measures in place to ensure worker safety

Unions are piling pressure on the European Commission to make good on its promise to launch a probe into Bangladesh after the country's government failed to make vital reforms to ensure its garment industry complies with core international labour standards.

The Commission has been sent a new white paper, released yesterday (18 October), in which Clean Clothes Campaign, the International Trade Union Confederation, the European Trade Union Confederation, IndustriAll Global Union and Uni Global Union allege Bangladesh is in violation of the Sustainability Compact signed with the EU four years ago because it has not implemented agreed changes to labour laws to protect workers in the ready-made garment industry.

The white paper focuses on four areas that remain areas of concern for the EU, International Labour Organization (ILO), unions and labour rights groups and other stakeholders. The four areas include labour law reform, freedom of association in the Export Processing Zones, improving union registration and the curtailing of anti-union discrimination.

"Despite promises made, it is still extremely difficult for workers in Bangladesh to exercise their fundamental labour rights. The continued failure of the Bangladeshi government to take the necessary action to protect workers' rights is ample reason for the EU to launch the much-needed trade investigation," asserts Jenny Holdcroft, IndustriAll assistant general secretary.

The unions argue the original deadline of May 2017, which was extended several times to allow the Bangladesh government time to provide the EU with tangible progress in order to remain eligible for preferential trade access, has long passed "without consequences."

"This is indicative of the European Commission's reluctance to use the power it has to adequately hold the Bangladesh government accountable through a trade investigation," argues the white paper, adding that as Bangladesh's largest trading partner, the EU has "both the power and responsibility" to help ensure labour standards are being met in Bangladesh.

"The government of Bangladesh is consistently failing to meet its obligations under international law to protect workers' rights. The result is continued exploitation and poverty wages for workers in the garment industry," says International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) general secretary Sharan Burrow.

"An EU investigation would help break the stranglehold that factory owners in Bangladesh have over the parliament and government, and would provide vital support for workers and their families."

In June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution expressing concerns for the lack of progress in a number of areas of the Sustainability Compact in Bangladesh. The country was given a deadline of August 2017 by which to honour its commitments, with a clear plan for labour law reform to be implemented by June 2018.

The EU has hinted that continued non-compliance might harm the duty-free trade benefits Bangladesh garment imports currently receive under the 'Everything but Arms' category.

The EU Commission did not respond to requests for comment when approached by just-style.