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AMSTERDAM – The European Union is ignoring labour rights violations in Bangladesh while continuing to provide it with preferential trade benefits, claim a group of labour rights organisations.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), and the HEC-NYU EU Public Interest Clinic have now lodged a formal complaint with the European Ombudsman.

The labour rights groups claim the European Commission is not taking into account human rights obligations regarding trade policies towards Bangladesh. Specifically, they are questioning why Bangladesh continues to benefit from preferential tariffs on its exports to Europe under the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), an EU instrument which requires beneficiary countries to maintain certain labour standards and to respect human rights.

“Bangladesh has committed serious and systematic violations of fundamental workers’ rights. Conditions are unsafe for millions of workers in Bangladesh,” the labour rights organisations said in a statement. “Additionally, the labour laws of Bangladesh create significant obstacles to the exercise of the right to freedom of association, to organise and to bargain collectively. Further, the government has not effectively enforced even these flawed laws, and workers complaints to authorities are routinely ignored. Without bargaining power or legal recourse, workers have been forced to live in extreme poverty.”

The EU has been trying for years to get Bangladesh to act on labour rights issues. However, the country has been extremely slow to address concerns. Indeed, if anything the country has taken backward steps in this area in the past 18 months.

The issue for us is that Bangladesh – and a number of other country’s with GSP status – have had several EU warnings about labour rights issues over the years but the EU has then failed to follow these up with concrete actions or penalties. Consequently, EU threats on such issues are not taken seriously.

Said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow: “The government of Bangladesh needs to stand up for working people, and not simply bow to the demands of powerful factory owners, many of whom are responsible for egregious exploitation. This complaint is aimed at getting the European Union to send a very clear message to Bangladesh, in line with the commitments the EU itself has made.”

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