The European Commission says sizeable efforts still need to be made to ensure that real change takes place and is sustained over the long term

The European Commission says sizeable efforts still need to be made to ensure that real change takes place and is sustained over the long term

There is a "pressing need" for further action by Bangladeshi authorities to improve labour conditions in the country's ready-made garment sector, says a new report from the European Commission – which adds that "sizeable efforts" are still required to ensure that real change takes place and is sustained over the long term.

According to its third annual update on progress in the Bangladeshi garment sector since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in 2013, workers' rights remains a challenging area, with a particular urgency as regards freedom of association.

The report highlights developments achieved through the Sustainability Compact for Bangladesh – an international response to the factory collapse.

The initiative, which aims to promote continuous improvements in labour rights and factory safety in the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh, brings together the European Union, the Government of Bangladesh, the US, Canada – the main markets for Bangladeshi garment production – as well as the International Labour Organization (ILO). The Compact is based on short and long term commitments related to three inter-linked pillars:

  • Respect for labour rights;
  • Structural integrity of buildings and occupational safety and health;
  • Responsible business conduct.

Now the European Commission says the Compact has contributed to tangible improvements in workplace safety and has played a key role in opening up and supporting a dialogue on working conditions for employees of Bangladeshi garment sector with trade unions, employers, buyers and NGOs.

But it expects further development of labour-related legislation and enforcement of the existing rules, in full compliance with the fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, as defined by the ILO.

The report adds those rights should be granted to all workers without exception, including those in export processing zones. The Commission draws particular attention to the need for more effective investigation and prosecution of alleged cases of anti-union discrimination and unfair labour practices. Room for improvement also exists in registration procedures for new workers' unions.

On administrative aspects, it points to the need for a new strategy for safety inspections and remediation, ensuring effective coordination between key Bangladeshi regulators with competences in that area. The EU also calls for further reinforcement of administrative capacities through recruitment and training of inspectors, and for full transparency on the outcomes of factory inspections. 

Additionally, it underlines the need for continuous education, training and capacity building on issues such as labour rights, and occupational safety and health. 

The report, together with recommendations addressed to the authorities of Bangladesh, also formulates the wish for a strong longer-term engagement of international private companies involved in business operations in Bangladesh, which have been key in bringing progress on the ground over the last years.

Writing on just-style this week, Mike Flanagan points out that recent terrorist attacks, along with a number of other threats, endanger the competitiveness of Bangladesh's apparel industry. 

Bangladesh must face up to new industry threats