The readymade garment (RMG) sector in Bangladesh must move to sustainable production, as the world is not going to accept another Rana Plaza, and international companies are not ready to put at risk their brands and reputation, William Hanna, Ambassador of the European Union to Bangladesh said at a BATEXPO Seminar in Dhaka.
Speaking on “Staying Engaged in the RMG Sector: Through crisis towards Sustainable Development”, Mr. Hanna said two years ago, the EU relaxed the Rules of Origin (RoO) to allow Bangladesh garment manufacturers to use imported cloth, and as a result Bangladesh RMG exports to Europe grew by 40 percent between 2011 and 2012 alone, despite economic downturn.
“For a country with an abundant young labour force export-led growth from manufacturing is the way forward, and Bangladesh has shown it can succeed,” the Ambassador said.
But, the appalling Tazreen fire and the indescribable horror of Rana Plaza was the result of “ruthless exploitation”, and such incidents must never happen again, he said.
“We cannot accept success built on such shaky foundations. We have to move to sustainable consumption and sustainable production,” he added.
He pointed out that EU’s new Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) cycle starting from January 1, 2014 will be conditional, even for ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) beneficiaries like Bangladesh.
“The conditions are related to compliance to certain UN and ILO conventions which are fundamental to safeguard decent working conditions. So reform is inevitable. It cannot be avoided,” Mr. Hanna said.
He said a radical change in needed, wherein garment manufacturing factories are made safe and workers are properly treated.
He added that sustainable production and sustainable consumption are two sides of the same coin.
Talking about the minimum wage, Mr. Hanna said, “For the EU it is abundantly clear that the present system where a wage is set and then stays the same in spite of steep inflation, until workers see no alternative to street action, is not sustainable.”
“There needs to be a system which reviews wages on an annual basis. And the wages have to be fixed through dialogue, - not confrontation and conflict,” he suggested.
He urged Bangladeshi RMG exporters to take positive action to remain competitive and establish a brand of their own regardless of LDC concessions enjoyed in EU and other markets.
Speaking at the same seminar, BNP Standing Committee member Abdul Moyeen Khan suggested that Bangladeshi garment manufacturers should produce more high-end products to earn higher profits, which will enable them to pay good salaries to workers.