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Potential ‘political’ US sanction spooks RMG industry

Staff Correspondent
11 Dec 2023 21:41:07 | Update: 11 Dec 2023 21:41:07
Potential ‘political’ US sanction spooks RMG industry

Bangladesh’s export-oriented apparel sector leaders believe that the country’s labour condition is better than its competitors, and if the US imposes any sanctions, it would likely be political.

To avoid such an incident, the government should resolve this issue diplomatically, as the USA is the top export destination of Bangladesh. Industry insiders however say Bangladesh is not up to the mark compared to the global standard in labour practices, but improvement is gradual.

On the other hand, workers’ and owners’ representatives blamed the Ministry of Labour and Employment for trying to amend the labour act without taking into consideration the Tripartite Consultative Council (TCC) recommendation.

This happened even though the TCC is empowered both by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the labour act.

The representatives made these comments at a seminar titled “Current labour issue and international trade scenario,” held in the city’s Economic Reporters’ Forum (ERF) auditorium on Monday.

This event was organised by the ERF, chaired by its President Mohammad Refayet Ullah Mirdha, and moderated by General Secretary Abul Kashem.

‘May be one of the targets’

On November 16, US President Joe Biden signed the first-ever presidential memorandum outlining the administration’s commitment to worker rights globally.

The same day, US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken said, “We will work to hold accountable those who threaten, who intimidate, who attack union leaders, labour rights defenders, labour organisations – including using things like sanctions, trade penalties, and visa restrictions – all the tools in our kit.”

On November 20, spokesperson for the United States Department of State Matthew Alan Miller said in a press briefing “…We’ve said, we condemn the recent violence against workers in Bangladesh protesting over the minimum wage, as well as the criminalization of legitimate worker and trade union activities.”

Same day, the Bangladesh embassy in Washington sent a letter to Ministry of Commerce Senior Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh, stating that there are reasons to believe that Bangladesh may be one of the targets of the US' recently released memorandum on labour rights.

The letter also mentioned that the policy would be another political tool to take measures on the pretext of labour issues.

Addressing this issue at the ERF event, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) Executive President Mohammad Hatem said, “Even though the labour condition in our country is better than our competitors, we are behind the global standard.

“The US does not have ethical rights to raise questions about our labour condition as they did not ratify six ILO conventions among the total eight. But we had ratified most of the key conventions.”

Echoing the same, Bangladesh Employers’ Federation (BEF) Director Fazlee Shamim Ehsan said, “There are two parts in the new US policy – visible and invisible. Visibly, we are doing well and there is no chance of sanctions being imposed on us.

“But we can do nothing in terms of the invisible reasoning. The ongoing situation is political, and the government should resolve this matter through diplomatic channels.”

Adding that nearly 1,300 RMG factories follow trade union practices, while the total number of active garments is 2,500, the apparel exporter said, “Many of us are concerned about trade unions, as they are growing without proper guidelines.”

Former secretary general of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council Towhidur Rahman urged all stakeholders to take the US memorandum seriously, as it has global ramifications.

He added, “It is a matter of disappointment that four labourers were killed in the recent protests but there is no investigation on how they died. In the new wage structure for the RMG sector, the board considered the owners demand, but ignored the workers.

“The resulting protests killed four workers, injured hundreds. Besides, 115 workers were sent to jail, and 43 cases were filed against them.”

Parliament recently passed the labour act amendment and sent it to the president for approval. He, however, withheld approval to the bill amending the labour law, and sent it back to parliament for reconsideration due to concerns over a new provision.

The US and the European Union (EU) also had objections to the bill, and said it deprived the workers of their rights. 

At Monday’s programme, National Garment Workers Federation President and Co-founder Amirul Haque Amin said, “The labour act amendment procedure is not acceptable. We identified 56 issues.

“But the ministry sent the act to the parliament without arbitration in the TCC meeting.”

BFF Director Ehsan said, “It is good for everyone that President Mohammed Shahabuddin returned the labour amendment bill, and we have the chance to further review it.”