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Press reports on CPD-ILO Dialogue on Catalysing Social Dialogue in the Bangladesh RMG Sector

Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in association with the ILO Country Office for Bangladesh organised a dialogue on Sunday 23 April 2017  on the eve of the fourth anniversary of Rana Plaza Tragedy titled Catalysing Social Dialogue in the Bangladesh RMG Sector at the Gardenia Grand Hall, Dhaka.

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Published in The Daily Star on Monday, 24 April 2017

Social dialogues to prevent disasters like Rana Plaza: analysts

Star Business Report

Catalysing-Social-Dialogue-in-the-RMG-Sector-of-Bangladesh-04

Social dialogues can be introduced in the garment sector for establishing healthy industrial relations between workers and managements, said analysts yesterday.

Foreign retailers should ensure a price that would facilitate maintaining decent work and social dialogue, said Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue.

He went on to urge the authorities of the sourcing companies’ home countries to put emphasis on ensuring social dialogue in the supplying countries while procuring products.

Moazzem’s comments came at a discussion on ‘catalysing social dialogue in the RMG sector of Bangladesh’.

The CPD and the International Labour Organisation jointly organised the dialogue on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza industrial disaster that took lives of more than 1,134 workers and left nearly 2,500 injured.

The private think-tank conducted a review of the initiatives taken in the aftermath of the disaster. Some 15 injured workers were picked at random and interviewed.

Moazzem shared the findings of the study at the event.

Of the 15 workers interviewed, 6 were jobless four years on, and the average income of those who managed to find themselves gainfully employed was lower than what they earned previously in most cases.

The study found that 12 workers took treatment in the last one year and their average monthly expenditure for treatment was about Tk 3,400, which comes to Tk 41,000 in a year.

The progress of inspection of 1,549 factories under the national initiatives was highly disappointing. There was no follow-up inspection on the remediation work after the inspection carried out by Buet and other organisations with the support of the ILO.

“The remaining period of the stipulated timeline of Accord and Alliance is crucial in order to complete the remediation works,” Moazzem said.

Incidences of unrest are higher in BGMEA member factories while lesser number of incidents takes place in factories in Narayanganj and Chittagong, he said.

Moazzem suggested an effective social dialogue between the manufacturers, buyers, brands, union leaders and workers for better labour rights and for strengthening workplace safety.

Workers have to be made fundamental partners in the enterprises where they work in order to establish a balanced relationship between the employers and employees, said Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the CPD.

The Rana Plaza disaster brought to light the whole weakness in the governance system, shedding light on a complete lack of oversight and a politically influential property owner who could use his weight to ensure the enforcement mechanism is not put in place, he said.

“I have not noticed, on the anniversary of Rana Plaza over the last four years, any discussion in the highest body of the land, our parliament, to see whether progress has been made and what level of accountability has been achieved and exercised.”

This is a question that the lawmakers should address, Sobhan said.

The central element is that the sector operates in a deeply unjust global value chain where a $5 shirt made in Bangladesh is sold at $25 at Wal-Mart stores or at much higher prices in countries such as Sweden, he said.

“Where exactly does the $20 go? Is this a natural working of the market mechanism or a manifestation of an unjust global order?”

He said the current business model forces suppliers to squeeze their workers as much as they can as they would have to produce the shirt at $5.

“Unless there is a major investigation of a professional nature, a political nature and an international nature to de-construct the value chain and see how it can be made to work, I personally don’t believe discussions will not produce any result.”

If the structural problems that were at the heart of the Rana Plaza disaster are not addressed, many of the problems will reoccur in the future and people will forget about these issues five years from now, Sobhan added.

Trade union leaders, researchers, diplomats, businessmen and manufacturers from home and abroad attended the dialogue that was moderated by Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow of the CPD.

Srinivas Reddy, country director of ILO, Bangladesh echoed the same.

Recent unrest in the Ashulia area took place because of mistrust between workers and managements.

Social dialogue will help reduce mistrust and establish a healthy relationship between stakeholders, he added. Babul Akter, a union leader, said almost all the reforms in the garment sector have been done under pressure from the international communities and retailers.  The factory owners are not so much interested for reforms by their own, he said.

Nazma Akter, president of the Sommilito Garment Sramik Federation, a workers’ right platform, said this is not the time for internal fights.

“We need to know how to overcome the challenges. The whole supply chain has the challenge of corruption,” Akter said.

Mahmud Hasan Khan, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said after the Rana Plaza building collapse a total of 591 trade unions were registered.

Of the unionised factories, 260 are running and 331 have been shut down.

“We should conduct a research on whether the factories have been closed down because of trade unions or not.”


Published in Dhaka Tribune on Monday, 24 April 2017

CPD weighs in on lessons learned from Rana Plaza disaster

The discussion “Catalysing social dialogue in the RMG sector of Bangladesh” was presided over by CPD Chairperson Prof Rehman Sobhan

Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on Sunday recommended introduction of social dialogue in the RMG sector, a practice of making public policy through engaging all stakeholders – the government, employers and worker representatives.

The think tank along with International Labour Organisation (ILO) organised the dialogue at Gardenia restaurant in Gulshan on the occasion of the Rana Plaza disaster’s fourth anniversary.

ILO Country Director Srinivas B Reddy explained the importance of social dialogue, saying: “It provides a tool to build trust and inclusion, and to reduce the risk of labour unrest. Enhanced social dialogue can help workers and employers to form a high quality partnership where they share goals and objectives. By providing all social partners with an opportunity to engage in the decisions that shape their society, social dialogue can help to constructively reduce inequalities.”

The discussion “Catalysing social dialogue in the RMG sector of Bangladesh” was presided over by CPD Chairperson Prof Rehman Sobhan who said workers have to be made fundamental stakeholders in the enterprises, where they work and where they are seen as business partners rather than dependent on the market forces in order to establish a balanced relationship between the employees and the employers.

He spoke on the inaction of the government about the largest industrial disaster in Bangladesh. “This is the fourth year of the Rana Plaza tragedy and, the shame on the country, but I have not noticed, on the anniversary of Rana Plaza over the last four years, any discussion in the highest body of the land – our parliament – to see progress has been made and what level of accountability has been achieved and exercised by the government.

“The disaster brought to light the whole weakness in the governance system, shedding light on a complete lack of oversight and a politically influential property owner who could use its influence to ensure the enforcement mechanism is not put in place,” said Prof Rehman Sobhan.

Studies on social dialogue revealed the challenges of implementing the process is a lack of interest or unwillingness of governments and stakeholders which may be due to the prevailing tradition and “weakness” of social partners.

The CPD chairperson said: “I have not seen any parliamentary committee sitting and made responsible for overseeing all the critical elements which are actually being put in place to see whether they are being enforced.

“This is a question that the lawmakers should address.” He added that the highest legal and political bodies in Bangladesh should constantly address this issue and exercise their political oversight to sort out problems at the heart of the Rana Plaza tragedy.

CPD Research Director Khondaker Golam Moazzem presented the data from his study on the Rana Plaza disaster at the dialogue called “Strengthening social dialogue mechanism under weak enabling environment: case of RMG sector.”

Distinguished Fellow of CPD Debapriya Bhattacharya moderated the discussion while Secretary of Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) Mikail Shipar, and Vice-President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Mahmud Hasan Khan Babu spoke, among others, at the discussion.


 

Published in The Financial Express on Monday, 24 April 2017

RMG sector future hinges on better worker-owner ties

FE Report

Speakers at a dialogue in the capital on Sunday pressed for improving relation between the workers and the factory owners as well as ensuring fairness in the supply chain for a sustainable readymade garment (RMG) sector.

Experts, diplomats, employers and workers’ representatives at the dialogue titled “Catalyzing Social Dialogue in the RMG Sector of Bangladesh” also emphasised good governance, ensuring workers’ rights including freedom of association, and implementation of labour act in the export processing zones (EPZs).

Their recommendations also included ensuring job for the Rana Plaza survivors, follow up treatment of the injured workers, getting fair prices of apparel products, and launching social dialogue in the sourcing countries.

Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and International Labour Organization (ILO) jointly organized the dialogue on the eve of the fourth anniversary of Rana Plaza building collapse.

Labour secretary Mikail Shipar was the chief guest of the programme, moderated by CPD distinguished fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya. CPD chairman Rehman Sobhan, among others, was also present.

Rehman Sobhan said workers have to be made fundamental stakeholders in the enterprises where they work and seen as business partners in order to establish a balanced relationship between the employees and the employers.

He said the central element of the RMG sector is that it operates in a deeply unjust global value chain, where a Bangladesh-made $5.0 shirt is sold at $25 at Wal-Mart stores or at much higher prices in countries such as Sweden.

“Where exactly does the $20 go? Is this a natural working of the market mechanism or a manifestation of an unjust global order?”

He also said the current business model forces the suppliers to squeeze their workers as much as they can as they would have to produce the shirt at $5.

The Rana Plaza disaster brought to light the whole weakness in the governance system, shedding light on a complete lack of oversight and a politically-influential property owner, who could use his influence to ensure that the enforcement mechanism is not put in place.

Though four years have passed since the Rana Plaza tragedy, there was no discussion in the parliament to evaluate what progress has been made as well as what level of accountability has been achieved and exercised by the government, he added.

He called on the top political power of the land and the related apex body to concern itself and engage the highest bodies to constantly address the issue and exercise political oversight to sort out problems at the heart of the Rana Plaza disaster.

ILO Bangladesh Country Director Srinivas Reddy said the recent Ashulia labour unrest highlighted that there is a need to move from the situation of mistrust and miscommunication between the workers and the owners to a high-quality partnership where the shared goals can be achieved.

Social dialogue can be helpful in this regard, as it is beneficial for the businesses, the workers and the government, he opined.

Terming social dialogue crucial for inclusive growth and an important pillar of Sustainability Compact, he said such dialogue has many benefits – it provides a tool to build trust and inclusion and resists labour unrest.

He stressed on addressing the issues raised in the last International Labour Conference, including revising the labour act and the EPZ law along with ensuring smooth legislation of trade union and effective resolution of unfair labour practice.

The labour secretary mentioned that developing confidence between the workers and the owners is a challenge, and the recently-formed tripartite consultative committee will help address the labour-related issues.

He also informed the dialogue that the government withdrew the draft of EPZ law from the parliament to review it further following the recommendation of the ILO and the EU.

“A significant progress has taken place, as the draft EPZ law was withdrawn from the parliament for the PM’s review.”

Chowdhury Ashikul Alam, general secretary of Bangladesh Trade Union Sangha, said values of labour are in peril in the country due to lack of democratic norms and values.

He also recommended a dignified relationship between the workers and the owners to solve the problems of various industrial sectors.

Labour leader Nazma Akter opined that there is corruption in supply chain.

She also focused on capacity building of the workers, the owners and the government officials, and allowing trade union with respect for labour rights.

Babul Akhter, another labour leader, said much talk has taken place in so many meetings and seminars, but with very poor development for the injured Rana Plaza workers.

Terming social dialogue a ‘nice term’ he alleged that social dialogue failed to address the issues related with the recent Ashulia incident, and raised question what to do once such social dialogue fails.

Mahmud Hasan Khan, vice president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), opined that the buyers might shift their orders to other countries, like Ethiopia, if the local manufacturers put pressure on them to raise products’ prices.

Trade unions have been registered in some 591 factories, of which only 260 are in operation, he said, recommending conducting research to find out the reasons.

He also suggested formulation of an effective mechanism for holding successful social dialogue and forming sector-based central trade unions.

Fazlul Hoque, former president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), also called for launching social dialogue in the sourcing countries.

He also recommended putting both buying and selling prices at the products’ price tag to ensure transparency and fair price in the supply chain.

Vidiya Amrit Khan, a former BGMEA director, opined that getting fair prices of products helps ensure things discussed in social dialogue.

CPD research director Khondaker Golam Moazzem while presenting his keynote on ‘Strengthening Social Dialogue Mechanism under Weak Enabling Environment: Case of RMG Sector” said DIFE should develop its action plan for ensuring remediation with proper financial plan.

Terming 2017 crucial to set strategies for monitoring and inspection during post-2018 period, he recommended developing a public-private partnership initiative in this regard.

His other suggestions included ensuring better management at factory level to avoid workers’ concern, buyers’ role for ensuring proper functioning of financial and HR management, and better functioning of arbitration process.

He also called on the buyers to ensure fair prices that would facilitate maintaining decent work environment in the factories.

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