The high share of the clothing industry on Bangladesh’s GDP also shapes international news about the country. That is why many in the EU still link Bangladesh’s garment industry with the exploitation of women and the devastating events of two garment factory disasters in 2012 and 2013. Wrongly so. A lot has change in the past seven years. Trade unions have been established and workers have received securities in the form a legal minimum wage as well as other benefits. Security in the working place has
been significantly improved thanks to a system of binding rules for factory buildings as well as for inspections of fabrics.
The European Union needs to get active with proposals of guidelines and common rules to increase the accountability of companies and their actions, and to establish transparency for communities, consumers, investors, companies, and, in particular, to protect those who are most vulnerable: the workers
Nonetheless, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed that the dependence of a country on one industry can turn into a burden. With significantly lower demand, western multinational companies have started cancelling orders, some reportedly without paying for production costs already laid out. Long-term business partners turned their back and the Bangladesh Government intervened by providing a stimulus package of 5000 crore taka to ready-made garments (RMG) factories to ensure workers are paid. This support from the government helped the RMG sector not to lay off their workers. Yet, when the purchasers won’t change their attitude, thousands of workers are threatened to being sent home without pay, facing acute vulnerability.
Many multinational companies, including EU based ones, have shirked their responsibility of paying for orders by invoking the “force majeure” clause. They argue that given the emergence of COVID-19 they are exempted from performing their contractual obligations. This is of course an unacceptable excuse which not only gives a bad image of European business ethics but also puts whole supply chains at stake. Workers in Bangladesh have a right to be paid for the work done. Therefore, it is crucial that multinational companies adhere to contracts and pay for already produced goods.
The EU has shaped the future of Bangladesh by the opening of its markets. Now it is time for the Union to make sure that companies operating on these markets play by the rules. Even though many companies in the EU already do voluntarily disclose their activities linked to human rights and environmental risks, a comprehensive, coherent approach is missing. The European Union needs to get active with proposals of guidelines and common rules to increase the accountability of companies and their actions, and to establish transparency for communities, consumers, investors, companies, and, in particular, to protect those who are most vulnerable: the workers. Thus, let’s not abandon them, and let’s show our solidarity ensuring that they can rely on fair conditions.
Tomáš ZDECHOVSKÝ is a member of the European parliament.