Third follow-up meeting on Sustainability Compact in Dhaka
Call for ensuring freedom of association and safety rights at all sector
The third meeting of the Sustainability Compact was held in a hotel in Dhaka on 18 May 2017. Partners of the Compact – Bangladesh Government, European Union, USA, Canada and ILO – and other related stakeholders took part in the day-long deliberations.
Secretaries of Ministry of Commerce, Labour and Employment, and Foreign Ministries and other senior officials took part as members of Bangladesh delegation under the overall guidance and supervision of Commerce Minister Tofael Ahmed.
Satisfactory progress in workplace safety and unprecedented move by Bangladesh Government to take back the draft EPZ Act, which shows good will of the government to further promote Labour rights in RMG factories, were lauded by the Compact partners. The partners also welcomed formation of the Tripartite Consultative Council (TCC) for the RMG sector to maintain harmonious industrial relations between workers and factory owners.
The partners also briefed that the TCC would also propose changes to the Bangladesh Labour Act in line with recommendations of the expert committee of the ILO. Introduction of standard operating procedures (SoPs) for transparent and quick disposal of new trade union registration was appreciated by partners.
In the morning session of the third review meeting Bangladesh Government presented a time bound roadmap and action plan under under the three pillar of the compact i. e. labour rights, workplace safety and responsible business conduct.
The Compact partners discussed different initiatives taken by the government since the last review meeting held on 28 January 2018, and the ILO special paragraph on Bangladesh and rough handling of workers in Ashulia were identified as areas of grave concern. Upholding of ILO conventions in Bangladesh Labour Act was stressed and continuous engagement of the Compact partners was reiterated.
In the afternoon three roundtable were held on sustainability opportunities and challenges in the RMG sector, ensuring continuous improvements in labour rights in RMG factories in particular freedom of association and collective bargaining, and advancing on structural integrity of the buildings and occupational safety and health enabling responsible business conduct by all stakeholders engaged in the RMG and knitwear industry in Bangladesh. All related stakeholders took part in the open discussion and question and answer sessions. Each of the Compact partners were represented by their panelists.
Emphasizing the significant role of the RMG sector in women empowerment and overall economic development of Bangladesh, in his concluding speech Commerce Minister Tofael Ahmed urged the Compact partners for their continued engagement for sustainable trade in the RMG sector in Bangladesh. The Compact partners met the press at the end of the day-long third review meeting of the Sustainability Compact and expressed their willingness to remain engaged and renewed their commitment to the Compact process.
Statement of BFTUC
On behalf of the organisation BFTUC secretary general A R Chowdhury REPON took part at the meeting. Several trade unionists and labour rights activists were also present. In a brief statement BFTUC placed several recommendations to ease the registration process of trade unions, reformation of Labour Act and other issues related with the workers’ rights.
BFTUC secretary general A R Chowdhury REPON attended the meeting and recommended adopting tripartite approach in changing existing Labour Act or proposed EPZ Act.
He also suggested reformation of the current system of union registration under the Labour Act which stipulates at least 30 per cent workers of a factory must be signatories for registration of a trade union. The government should loosen the requirement after scrutinizing other possibilities, he added.
A R Chowdhury REPON underscored the need for launching a registration mechanism for transparent and accountable trade union. The registration procedures should be simplified and if the required legal minimum of the workforce supports unionization, it should be given legal recognition without any interference.
The program was moderated and facilitated by ILO deputy director of the International Standards Department Ms. Karen Curtis. The panelists are Assistant US Trade Representative Mark Linscott, US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, High Commissioner of Canadian Delegation to Dhaka Benoit-Pierre Laramee, EU Ambassador in Dhaka Pierre Mayaudon, Directorate General for Employment European Commission head of unit Lluis Prats, US Trade Representative director for labour affaires Michael O’Donovon, Canada International and Intergovernmental Labour Affaires director general Rakesh Patry among others were present.
Outcome of the meeting
In the joint conclusions, the partners recognised the urgent need for promoting responsible business conduct and encouraged brands and retailers to adopt responsible business practices and a uniform code of conduct for factory audits in Bangladesh.
The partners also recognised that progress has been made in several areas of the compact including recent increase in trade union registrations in Dhaka Division, work towards the development of standard operating procedures to better process applications for trade union registration, strengthening of department of inspection for factories and establishment and investment in factory safety with the initial implementation of corrective action plans.
They also noted the introduction of the concept of workplace cooperation and building a culture of occupational safety and health.
In their deliberations throughout the day, the heads of the delegations of the compact partners laid emphasis on doing more and urged the government to come up with a clear roadmap with specific timeframe to implement the issues related to labour rights.
On the other hand, the Bangladesh side has argued that they are doing what it takes to keep the readymade garment (RMG) sector safe and secure ensuring the rights of the workers. They also placed greater emphasis on increased prices of the products.
Third Follow-Up Meeting on Bangladesh Sustainability Compact
Dhaka, 18 May 2017
On 18 May 2017, the Partners of the Sustainability Compact – the Government of Bangladesh (GoB), the European Union (EU), the United States of America (USA), Canada, and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) – met for the third follow-up meeting. The meeting aimed at assessing progress made since the last meeting on January 28, 2016 and to review priorities for the coming year.
The Compact and the Joint Conclusions of the Partners continue to serve as a set of commitments and priorities by its Partners aimed at securing respect for labour rights, occupational safety and health, and the promotion of responsible business conduct in the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector.
The Partners recognize progress made in several areas of the Compact including recent increase in trade union registrations in Dhaka Division, work towards the development of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to better process applications for trade union registration, strengthening of Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment (DIFE), formation of the Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) and investment in factory safety with the initial implementation of corrective action plans. They also note the introduction of the concept of workplace cooperation and building a culture of occupational safety and health.
The Partners recognize the need to pursue these efforts and to ensure that the new SOPs are agreed to for the smooth and expeditious processing of trade unions’ registration applications in accordance with objective and transparent criteria. The Partners stress that adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination is amongst the main element of a conducive and enabling environment for freedom of association and collective bargaining.
The Partners recognize the urgent need to further address acts of discrimination against trade unionists, and to effectively investigate and prosecute unfair labour practices in a timely and transparent manner. As part of this effort, the Partners underline the importance of upgrading the Department of Labour (DoL) with staff and resources.
The Partners note the recent distressing events in Ashulia and renew the call on all the social partners to act in accordance with the decisions of the tripartite agreement of February 23, 2017. They welcome the formation of Tripartite Consultative Council (TCC) for RMG sector as an advisory body for industrial relations between the workers and the factory owners. The Partners also stress that criminal complaints pending against the concerned social partners need to be reviewed urgently to ensure due process of law. The Partners recognise the urgent need to begin inclusive consultations towards the amendment of the Bangladesh Labour Act (BLA) and associated regulations to address the conclusions and recommendations of the ILO’s supervisory bodies.
They note that the draft EPZ labor law has been withdrawn for further review and the TCC has been tasked with proposing reforms to the BLA. They reaffirm the need to ensure that workers in the EPZs enjoy freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. The Partners recognize the urgent need for promoting responsible business conduct (RBC). They encourage brands and retailers to adopt RBC practices and a uniform code of conduct for factory audits in Bangladesh.
The Partners recognize the significant contributions of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building safety (the Accord), and Alliance for Bangladesh Workers Safety (the Alliance) to ensure factory safety in RMG factories and for their commitment to sustainable sourcing from Bangladesh. The Partners agree on the need for the National Initiative, the Accord, and the Alliance to commence where not started and advance remediation work. They encourage private initiatives to remain engaged with the government and to renew their commitments to working for safer RMG factories in the coming years.
Recognizing the critical role that the RMG sector plays in the development of the country, the Partners express their continued commitment to the people of Bangladesh including through supporting responsible business conduct. The Compact Partners take note the Government of Bangladesh’s planned strategies to achieve the goals of the compact and will continue to review and assess progress together in the coming year.