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EU-Bangladesh apparel trade: A time for a reality check

A multi-stakeholder event titled ‘EU-Bangladesh Apparel Trade: A Time for a Reality Check’ was held at the European Parliament in Brussels on 5 February. Tomas Zdechovsky, Member of the European Parliament of the European People’s Party (MEP) in cooperation with the Bangladesh Embassy in Brussels hosted the program.

EU-Bangladesh-Apparel-Trade-A-Time-Reality-Check
Figure: State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam speaking at a multi-stakeholder event titled “EU-Bangladesh Apparel Trade: A Time for a Reality Check” held at the European Parliament in Brussels recently.

Tomas Zdechovsky has taken initiative to create a platform to discuss the current state of the European Union-Bangladesh garment trade with his ability as a member of the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament (INTA) as a representative of the South Asian Council (DSAS).

Bangladesh is the second largest of readymade garment (RMG) manufacturer after China and the latest exported value of Bangladesh RMG is $19.06 billion from July-Jan FY19-20 more than 84% of total overseas sales. Since the Rana Plaza incident at Savar in 2013 Bangladesh RMG worked on the safety issue and drew global attention attaining 280 LEED-certified factories by now.

Former BGMEA President and Advisory Committee member of the Commerce Minister of Bangladesh Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin addressed some of the issues raised later on subcontracting, the fire safety standard and the Rana Plaza tragedy.

Later on, State Minister Shahriar Alam said that the sea change in Bangladesh’s RMG industry over the past seven years, especially as a result of the concerted efforts of many dedicated actors and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina envisioned a Bangladesh where prosperity and social justice coexist in a prosperous economy and our social partners work together to manage industrial relations in harmony.

He called on Brussels stakeholders to help set a positive agenda for EU-Bangladesh trade relations beyond ‘disseminating relentless misinformation by some malls’.

Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) has proposed to raise the bulk tariff of electricity by 23.28% from this year and the minimum wage increased 51 percent by now. In this current situation, Bangladesh RMG must highlight the fair price of products to sustain the RMG industry.

The former BGMEA Chief highlighted the industry’s leadership in promoting sustainability and called for ‘green prices’ for green factories. He invited further investment and partnerships with the EU for higher value-added items, including man-made fiber.

During the panel discussion at the event, the President of BGMEA Rubana Huq said that labor narratives about Bangladesh need to be changed now. Bangladesh’s RMG industry is open to partnership and there is nothing to hide as far as workers’ protection and remedies are concerned.

She addressed with facts and figures a host of issues raised by other panelists and discussants concerning the last leg of remediation measures by a number of non-exporting factories, the possible changes to the National Building Code that encompasses industries beyond the RMG sector, and legislative compliance with ILO standards.

She spoke of the many innovative steps taken by BGMEA to promote the welfare, financial inclusion and family support of RMG staff. She emphasized that she had not received any reports of harassment or discrimination against workers while she was in office for the past ten months.

Dan Rees, Director of Better Work Program (a flagship program of the International Labor Organization) acknowledged the progress made in the RMG industry in Bangladesh. He has calculated some of the gaps in labor law on export processing zones (EPZs) and trade union activities in the dispute resolution system. Dan Rees praised the openness to partner with industry and other stakeholders through the recently launched RMG Sustainability Council.

Bangladesh’s Ambassador to Brussels, Mohammad Shahdat Hossain, has restored the government’s commitment to engage in this national free dialogue to mislead the industry. He suggested including Bangladeshi labor representatives on similar occasions in the future.

Maximilian Krah, MEP of Identity and Democracy Group and INTA Reporter in South Asia praised Bangladesh’s recent economic growth performance and its contribution to the clothing sector. The German MEP has assured the European Parliament’s assistance in addressing the remaining challenges of the industry and facilitating a smooth transition from LDC status to Bangladesh.

He cited the growing import of machinery and other materials from EU member states as an example of additional benefits to the EU from the growth of Bangladesh’s RMG industry.

Michael H. Poster, a professor at New York University’s Start School of Business, emphasized the need to examine the role of international business rather than creating ‘exaggerated pressure’ on source countries’ factoring in policing mode.

Several audience members echoed his sentiment and emphasized the need to promote an incentive-based approach under EU GSP regulations.

Representatives from the International Trade Union Federation (ITUC) and Amphora also participated in the discussion.

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