EU considers trade action after Bangladesh factory collapse

Bodies of unidentified garment workers, who died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, lie on the ground as people gather to watch a mass burial in Dhaka May 1, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew
Bodies of unidentified garment workers, who died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, lie on the ground as people gather to watch a mass burial in Dhaka May 1, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew

The European Union is considering trade action against Bangladesh, which has preferential access to EU markets for its garments, to pressure Dhaka to improve safety standards after a building collapse killed more than 400 factory workers.

Duty-free access offered by Western countries and low wages have helped turn Bangladesh’s garment exports into a $19 billion a year industry, with 60 percent of clothes going to Europe.

Any action by the EU on Bangladesh’s duty-free and quota-free access would require the agreement of all member states and could take more than a year to implement.

“The European Union calls upon the Bangladeshi authorities to act immediately to ensure that factories across the country comply with international labor standards…,” the 27-nation bloc said in a statement issued by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht.

In the United States, prominent Democrats Sander Levin and George Miller wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to facilitate the development of a concrete plan of action to address the range of issues relating to working conditions and worker rights in the garment sector in Bangladesh.

The death toll from the collapse last week of the illegally built Rana Plaza in Dhaka’s commercial suburb of Savar rose to 411 on Wednesday and about 40 unidentified victims were buried. One woman at the cemetery collapsed into tears when she recognized the body of her sister by her dress.

Several thousand workers rallied in the capital to mark Labour Day, and some called for capital punishment for those responsible for the tragedy.

“The owner of the building … should be hanged to death and compensation should be given to the injured and those who died,” said labor leader Moshrefa Mishu. “A healthy and safe atmosphere should be made in the factories.”

“SHOT ACROSS THE BOWS”

With local anger growing over the country’s worst industrial accident, a delegation from the International Labour Organisation met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka to offer support and press for action to prevent any more such incidents.

The EU had already urged Bangladesh to adhere to ILO standards in January after two earlier factory fires.

A European Union official said the latest EU statement, issued late on Tuesday, was “a shot across the bows”. “We want to turn up the diplomatic heat on them and get them to sit down and discuss this with us.

About 3.6 million people work in Bangladesh’s garment industry, making it the world’s second-largest apparel exporter, behind China. The industry employs mostly women, some of whom earn as little as $38 a month.

The prime minister warned factory owners they would have to take care of their workers. “You will have to ensure workers’ fair wages, allowances and other rights … you must look after their workplace safety if you want to do business,” she told a discussion forum.

There were about 3,000 people inside the complex, which was built on a swamp, when it collapsed. About 2,500 people have been rescued, but many remain unaccounted for.

“Why are they taking so much time to pull out bodies?” asked a grief-stricken father who, like many others, has been waiting on the streets near the collapsed factory, hoping for information about his son.

Police said DNA samples of the bodies buried on Wednesday had been preserved, so tests could be done if relatives came forward later.

The building’s owner Mohammed Sohel Rana and his father, Abdul Khalek, are among eight people arrested so far, and police are seeking a fifth factory boss, Spanish citizen David Mayor, although it was unclear whether he was in Bangladesh at the time of the accident.

EU IS BIGGEST MARKET

The factory collapse was the third deadly incident in six months to raise questions about worker safety and labor conditions in the poor South Asian country, which relies on garments for 80 percent of its exports. Clothes made in five factories inside the Rana Plaza building were produced for retailers in Europe and Canada.

In the year to June 2012, Bangladesh’s garment exports to the EU rose to $11.37 billion from $10.52 billion a year earlier, according to Bangladesh’s commerce ministry. Germany is the main EU market at $3.4 billion, followed by the UK at $2.13 billion, Spain at $1.71 billion and France at $1.27 billion.

Bangladesh’s next biggest garment export market is the United States, which accounts for 23 percent, or $4.53 billion.

“The EU is presently considering appropriate action, including through the Generalised System of Preferences – through which Bangladesh currently receives duty-free and quota-free access to the EU market,” Ashton and de Gucht said.

“The sheer scale of this disaster and the alleged criminality around the building’s construction is finally becoming clear to the world.”

The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), an umbrella organization that brings NGOs, unions and brands together to try to improve working conditions, said retailers, major brands and the suppliers who own the factories would have to contribute towards factory inspections.

“Bangladeshi companies who supply to our retailers need to be pricing in operating a decent factory, a safe factory and paying proper wages,” ETI director Peter McAllister told Reuters.

“And then the retail world needs to recognize that the real cost of having sustainable businesses are going to be higher.” he said, adding that he thought retailers would accept slightly higher prices if all outlets agreed to the changes.

Following a private emergency meeting of Canadian retailers, the Retail Council of Canada said on Tuesday it would develop a new set of guidelines. That meeting brought together retailers including Loblaw, Sears Canada Inc and Wal-Mart Canada, to discuss how to deal with the tragedy.

Representatives of some 45 companies, including Gap Inc, H&M, J.C. Penney, Nike Inc, Wal-Mart, Britain’s Primark, Marks & Spencer and Tesco, and Li & Fung, met officials from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association in Dhaka this week to discuss worker and plant safety.

Primark and Loblaw have promised to compensate the families of garment workers killed while making their clothes.

(Reporting by Susan Taylor, Neha Alawadhi, Serajul Quadir and Ruma Paul; Writing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry; Editing by Mark Bendeich, Ian Geoghegan, Philippa Fletcher and Andrew Hay)


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Supporters say man accused of robbery was misidentified

A Liberian immigrant couple charged with extorting money from an elderly woman in March will be in court Thursday for a bail hearing, but supporters say it's a case of…

International

Canadian charged in 'Heartbleed' attack on tax agency

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian police have arrested a 19-year-old man and charged him in connection with exploiting the "Heartbleed" bug to steal taxpayer data from…

Local

Could this be the end of ICE holds…

Mayor Michael Nutter directed city agencies to stop cooperating with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer holds via executive order today.

National

Every dog has his day in court, in…

(Reuters) - Call him juror K-9.A computer glitch is likely to blame for a summons that called a German Shepherd to report for jury duty,…

Television

‘Survivor: Cagayan’ recap: Episode 8

Sure, it's called Survivor. But this season should really be called 'The Tony Show.'

Television

Jim Rash talks 'The Writer's Room' and amazing…

For Jim Rash, as the fifth season of "Community" comes to a close, the second season of "The Writer's Room" begins.

Television

'Dexter' star Jennifer Carpenter moves into producing role

The actress who played the title character's sister in "Dexter" is teaming up with producer George Stelzner to adapt Erika Hayasaki's book "The Death Class:…

The Word

Wahlburgers announce North America domination

Tuesday was a huge day for Donnie Wahlberg.

NFL

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April version

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April version

NHL

Flyers, Rangers meet in playoffs for 11th time

The Flyers and Rangers will start a new chapter in a historic rivalry.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: A's are baseball's best, Brewers…

MLB Power Rankings: A's are baseball's best, Brewers and Braves right behind

NHL

Top 5 Philadelphia storylines for Flyers-Rangers

The slate is clean for the Flyers and the Rangers. Which is good news for the Flyers.

Wellbeing

This Week in Health: chocolate may prevent obesity…

Can chocolate prevent obesity and diabetes? Location of study: U.S. Study subjects: Mice Results: The positive health benefits of chocolate have been studied increasingly more…

Wellbeing

This Week in Health News: breastfed infants trying…

Are breastfed infants trying to prevent mom from having another baby? Theory: The act of breastfeeding not only brings mom and baby closer together –…

Wellbeing

Unexplained infertility may be caused by lack of…

Researchers have identified a protein on the egg's surface that interacts with another protein on the surface of sperm, allowing the two cells to join.

Tech

5 surprising facts about Google Glass

Your sex life could get more interesting.