Ambassador Bernicat’s Opening Remarks at the Sustainability Compact Meeting

Radisson Blu Water Garden Hotel

May 18, 2017

DHAKA, BANGLADESH, MAY 18, 2017 – Fellow stakeholders — because we are all stakeholders; we have formed a unique group dedicated to strengthening the world’s foremost ready-made garment sector and the dedicated workers who play a key role in making the sector a world leader.

Good afternoon and Assalam Alaikum.

Thank you to the Government of Bangladesh for its hospitality in hosting this event and for the long hours and work put into coordinating this program with so many stakeholders. We appreciate the work, the collaboration, and the inclusiveness represented here today.

We look forward to the opportunity this meeting affords to continue and enhance the constructive discussions we have had since Rana Plaza and to allow us to take stock of the achievements and challenges we all face as we work together to ensure “continuous improvements in labor rights and factory safety,” especially those outlined in the ILO’s special paragraph.

The issues of worker safety and worker rights that we discuss today are enshrined in Bangladesh law or international labor standards, standards to which Bangladesh has voluntarily committed. We firmly believe that adhering to these standards is not just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do. It ensures people can work safely and owners can increase their productivity. But adhering to these standards will also put this country in a better position to improve its international competitiveness as well as to maintain and increase its market share in the worldwide garment industry.

We have seen significant progress in building inspections and safety remediation, thanks in part to the Alliance, the Accord, and the support of buyers who have invested their money and their confident in the two organizations’ efforts. We acknowledge this progress made by the Accord and the Alliance and continue to support their goal of 100 percent factory remediation. We note, however, that the percentage of completed remediation efforts at factories outside of the purview of the Alliance and the Accord remain low.

We believe all RMG industry stakeholders must reinvigorate their efforts to establish a consistent and sustainable inspection and enforcement regime as a permanent part of the RMG sector’s future, now and beyond 2018. In order to preserve the progress and confidence achieved so far, we want to ensure the government of Bangladesh is able to establish a sustainable system capable of assuming full responsibility for the RMG sector that provides necessary assurances to all stakeholders. That is a challenging task that must be done and done well. We therefore request that the government, the remediation coordination cell, and industry partners maintain an open and constructive dialogue with international partners, including the Accord and the Alliance, to explore how international support, including lessons learned and financial resources, can best continue in a mutually beneficial way for all stakeholders beyond 2018.

In terms of labor rights, we note a persistent need for progress on several key issues, and we see the potential for quick actions that can make up for lost time.

On the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) labor law, we applaud the government and parliament for withdrawing the existing draft law and for taking into consideration the concerns expressed by the Sustainability Compact partners. We urge the government to adopt the ILO’s recommendation to remove the portions of the draft EPZ labor law referring to freedom of association and to adopt instead the existing Bangladesh Labor Act (BLA) in place of those sections. We firmly believe that this proposal from the ILO is a reasonable and practical suggestion, and represents an improvement on the current draft. We welcome the Government of Bangladesh’s commitment to bringing the BLA in line with international standards and we look forward to continuing our discussions with you.

Other labor rights concerns continue to include the harassment of labor leaders, which reached a tipping point following the Ashulia unrest, as well restrictions on freedom of association, including union registration. We welcome the government’s just approved standard operating procedures being issued to facilitate the registration process, and welcome statistics that show higher union registration approval rates in Dhaka district. We look forward to discussing how to address the root causes of low union registration rates, including through fully staffing and upgrading the Directorate of Labor.

The recent events in Ashulia also highlighted the need for a forum to address industrial relations broadly and to improve social dialogue between workers, factory owners, and the government. The Tripartite Consultative Committee (TCC), once it is fully operational, is a promising step in this regard. I congratulate the stakeholders on establishing the TCC and urge you to use this new mechanism to build trust.

We remain committed to working with our Bangladeshi partners to help ensure the safety and rights of Bangladeshi workers, especially but not exclusively those who produce garments and other products destined for our country, and look forward to a lively discussion this afternoon about the best ways we can continue our commitment together.

Thank you. Onek dhonnobad.


*As Prepared for the Delivery