Bangladesh tells EU it will boost worker rights, inspections

Mon Jul 8, 2013 2:20pm EDT
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By Emma Thomasson

GENEVA (Reuters) - Bangladesh pledged on Monday to quickly boost worker rights and recruit more factory inspectors as it seeks to preserve European Union trade benefits after 1,129 workers were killed in the collapse of a garment plant in April.

The EU, which gives preferential access to Bangladeshi garments, has threatened punitive measures to press Dhaka to improve worker safety standards after the collapse of the illegally built Rana Plaza factory.

Instead, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht launched a "sustainability compact" at a meeting with Bangladesh officials, who committed to enacting a new labor law by the end of 2013 and increasing the factory inspectorate by 200 staff to 800.

"We have a carrot and a stick but I prefer to use the carrot," he said. "We want to help the Bangladeshi people, not to punish them."

The EU said it would reallocate funds to help rehabilitate those permanently disabled in the Rana Plaza collapse and extend technical assistance to improve labor standards in Bangladesh and other impoverished countries in the region.

Tax concessions offered by Western countries and the low wages paid by the manufacturers have helped to turn Bangladesh's garment exports into a $19 billion annual industry, with 60 percent of the clothes going to Europe.

In late June, U.S. President Barack Obama cut off U.S. trade benefits for Bangladesh in a mostly symbolic response to conditions in the country's garment sector, given that clothing is not eligible for U.S. duty cuts.

De Gucht said the United States was considering whether to join the compact announced on Monday.   Continued...

Rescue workers attempt to rescue garment workers from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building, in Savar, 30 km (19 miles) outside Dhaka April 29, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj