Against the backdrop of labour turmoil in Ashulia garment industrial belt and its fallout, four global rights groups on January 18 last urged the European Parliament (EP) to review the GSP for Bangladesh. The International Trade Union Confederation, European Trade Union Confederation, Industrial Global Union and UNI Global Union in a joint letter called upon the EP to press the European Commission to initiate an investigation on Bangladesh under GSP parameters.
If you give a handle to somebody with a lever to press, it will be pressed against a weak point, especially when it is perceived to be a benefactor-beneficiary relationship. With the US GSP, still a no-go area, Bangladesh-made apparel products, crucially enjoy zero-tariff access to the EU's Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP). The stake is high there as 60 per cent of the country's garment exports are destined to markets of over two dozen member-countries of the European Union. How forbidding the prospect of 12.05 per cent import duty vis-à-vis the cake walk of a zero-tariff entry!
At any rate, a dependable demand-supply relationship has grown over the years in a field of specialty, life-style and above all, need. It's truly a time-tested two-way traffic. In that context, pressure must be equated with obligation and leverage with persuasion.
Thus you hear flexible words to the 'demand for investigation' by four global rights groups, 'process does provide plenty of opportunities for a country to come into compliance before any final decision is made.'
Evidently, the visit of the four-member European Parliament (EP) team to Dhaka from March27 to 29 was set against the background of the recent developments outlined above. The EP representatives' press release, however noted that Bangladesh was mentioned under a special paragraph in the last ILO conference in June 2016, not perhaps in charitable terms.
The content of the press release issued at the end of the visit by the distinguished EP members viz. Linda McAvan, Arne Lietz, Nobert Neuser, and Agues Jongerius, though brief, is surely weighty. It merits an analysis perhaps nearly as lively as vibrancy of the content.
Praising the remarkable track-record of economic growth of Bangladesh, the press release noted," the garment sector which is the focus of our visit has played important role in that growth and we can see there have been improvements in both buildings and work place safety since Rana Plaza tragedies four years ago."
In the post-visit press conference, Nobert Neuser, the leader of the EU parliamentary team said, "You have done a remarkable job; on our return home we would be telling people about the progress you have made in garment and shoe-making industries."
After all the praise the operative advice delivered was spot-on: 'If Bangladesh can fully ensure the workers' rights she would be the country to globally lead the garments sector.'
The press statement makes it clear that their engagement with Bangladesh as with other countries is guided by their "core values in which respects for human rights and labour rights, in particular freedom of association and collective bargaining, rank high."
They called on Bangladesh to address four issues: 'Full alignment of respectively, the EPZ draft law, the Bangladesh Labour Act(BLA),with the UN core Labour Convention modalities for establishing trade unions and the right of Trade unions to operate freely. It is important that these issues are addressed before the 18th May review of the sustainability compact in Dhaka and the June annual international labour conference of the ILO in Geneva'.
Obviously, the lead time is limited; this cannot be lost on people concerned.