BD begs EU not to axe trade deal after disaster

It fears that the European Union will tear up agreements which give preferential access to Bangladeshi garments in order to pressure Dhaka to improve safety standards.Mahbub Ahmed, the most senior civil servant in Bangladesh‘s commerce ministry, warned that changes to the trade conditions would mean that “millions of workers will lose their jobs”.
“If the EU or any other buyers impose any harsh trade conditions on Bangladesh it will hurt the country‘s economy,” he said. Duty-free access offered by the West has helped make the country the world‘s second largest clothing exporter after China, with 60pc of clothes going to Europe.
However, there have been warnings that factory staff are being subjected to low wages, with some earning as little as £33 a month, and dangerous conditions.
According to the International Labour Organisation, legislators in Dhaka are due to receive proposals for reforms to labour laws. The plan, which will call for improved worker protection and the right to collective bargaining, will be submitted to parliament for its next session by the ILO, the government, workers and employers. The ILO said it will “assess by the end of 2013 the structural building safety and fire safety of all active export-oriented ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh, and initiate remedial actions, including relocation of unsafe factories”.
The US has also given Bangladesh preferred trade status, although it has emerged that it was considering revoking the agreement over labour conditions months before the disaster.
The US Trade Representative‘s office said in January that “the lack of progress by the government of Bangladesh in addressing worker rights issues in the country warrants consideration of possible withdrawal, suspension or limitation Bangladesh‘s trade benefits”.
The collapse of the illegally built factory on April 24 – which produced goods for a supplier of Primark and other Western retail giants – was Bangladesh‘s worst ever industrial accident.
Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, has blamed the factory owners, saying they ignored warnings about cracks in the walls. But the tragedy has placed scrutiny on the Western retailers using the country‘s low-cost factories.
Last week, the EU called upon Bangladeshi authorities “to act immediately to ensure that factories across the country comply with international labour standards”. However, there have not been any formal indications of trade action from the EU over the deaths.
The disaster was the third deadly industrial accident in six months that has brought labour conditions in Bangladesh into the spotlight.
In the aftermath of the collapse, Primark, owned by Associated Foods, said it will pay compensation for the victims of the disaster who worked for its suppliers.

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