The European Commission has warned Bangladesh of the suspension of the Generalised System of Preferences because of violation of labour rights and freedom of association.
Bangladesh ambassador to Brussels Md Shahdat Hossain on March 10 referred to the commerce ministry a letter the commission sent to him asking the government to seriously address the issues of labour rights and freedom of association.
In the letter, the commission said, ‘We will need to demonstrate to the European Parliament, Council of Ministers and to civil society that Bangladesh is taking concrete and lasting measures to ensure the respect of labour rights. This will be essential for Bangladesh to remain eligible for the EBA [everything but arms] regime. Without such progress our monitoring could eventually lead to the launching of a formal investigation, which could result in temporary withdrawal of preferences.’
Mentioning that the 3rd compact follow-up meeting will take place on May 18, the letter read, ‘This will be the opportunity for the EU, together with the USA and Canada to evaluate progress regarding Bangladesh’s commitments under the three pillars.’
It said that under the GSP regulation, beneficiaries were required to respect the core international principles of human rights and labour rights to continue the benefits of preferential trade regime from the European Union.
Earlier, the United States suspended the preferences for Bangladesh in June 2013 on charge of poor working condition and worker rights.
Labour secretary Mikail Shipar told New Age on Thursday that they were aware of the requirements of the commission and the government was working to ensure labour rights and freedom of association for workers.
Bangladesh embassy in Brussels on March 10 informed the commerce ministry about the letter saying that a delegation of European Parliament would visit Dhaka in March 27-29 to see the progress of labour rights and factory remediation in line with the Sustainability Compact.
‘If the European Union suspends GSP facility for Bangladesh, the country would be affected adversely,’ Centre for Policy Dialogue distinguished fellow Mustafizur Rahman said.
He said that the government should take initiative to address the issue raised by the European Union and International Labour Organisation immediately so that the GSP facility was not suspended.
Citing UNCTAD report, Mustafiz said that Bangladesh’s export might fall by 5.5 to 7.5 per cent as a result of the loss of the preference.
Following Rana Plaza Building collapse, the European Union and other partners have engaged with Bangladesh in the Sustainability Compact in an aim to promote improvements in labour rights and workplace safety in the apparel sector.
According to the letter, Bangladesh exported over €14.6 billion to the European Union in 2015 under EBA scheme which was 65.7 per cent of the country’s total export.
The letter said that the GSP regulation specifically provided for the possibility of temporary withdrawal in respect of all or certain products in case of serious and systematic violations of core human rights and labour rights.
‘The EU has already expressed its concern regarding the respect of the principle of freedom of association in Bangladesh,’ the letter said.
Citing an ILO report, the commission said that the ILO also expressed its concern in its latest report published in February due to ‘most recent serious allegation of act of violence and harassment against trade unions.’
The commission urged Bangladesh to implement the recommendation of the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards including amendments to the labour act to address the issue relating to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
It also demanded that labour organisations in the export processing zones should be allowed to form or join labour organisations outside of the zones and all acts of anti-union discrimination should be investigated.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Md Siddiqur Rahman said that the commission did not send any letter to the trade body.
‘Most probably the EC has sent a letter to the government regarding labour rights,’ he said.
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