A European Union mission is coming to Dhaka on 13 March to inspect Bangladesh's labour and human rights standards to determine the country's eligibility for the trade facility under the Everything but Arms (EBA) regime.
They will especially look at the implementation status of the action plan on the labour and human rights situation in the country as reflected in the core international conventions enumerated in the EU's Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Regulation, according to a note verbale by the EU Embassy to the commerce ministry.
The team will also assess Bangladesh's progress on ensuring a safe working environment and compulsory primary education.
Jordi Curell Gotor, director for international affairs at the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) of the EU, will lead the mission with the participation of officials from Directorate-General for Trade and European External Action Service representatives. They will leave the country on 17 March.
Bangladesh is currently enjoying duty-free access to 27 EU countries for all products except arms. However, the current GSP scheme announced by the EU will end in 2023 and a new scheme in its place will take effect from the first day of 2024.
The EU suggested that the Bangladesh government formulate a nine-point action plan to address rights issues to stay eligible for the EBA facility in the EU market. Accordingly, the labour ministry formulated a time-bound roadmap and submitted it to the EU.
The ministries concerned have already taken several initiatives, including amendments to labour laws and regulations, to ensure labour rights standards as prescribed by the EU.
According to gsphub.eu, the EU has intensified its engagement with three EBA beneficiaries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Myanmar. This enhanced engagement includes a systematic approach to address shortcomings in fundamental human rights and labour standards.
It stated that the EU has started the "enhanced engagement" with Bangladesh due to concerns with the country's overall adherence to human and labour rights as covered by the 15 core conventions included in the GSP regulation.
The EU is concerned about a number of human rights related developments in Bangladesh, which motivate the uptake of the "enhanced engagement".
These developments include shrinking space for civil society actors, freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture, as well as discrimination and violence against ethnic and religious minorities, it added.
GSP Hub stated that the EU and Bangladesh address human rights related issues in the subgroup on Human Rights and Good Governance, which is part of the EU-Bangladesh Cooperation Agreement. The European Commission has asked the Bangladesh government to improve freedom of expression and the space for civil society and to better investigate cases of alleged torture, ill treatment, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances.
With regards to labour rights, the engagement builds on the "Sustainability Compact", an initiative between the EU, the US, Canada, Bangladesh and the International Labour Organization which focusses on strengthening the freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and the promotion of responsible business conduct.
With the "enhanced engagement" the European Commission expects further progress in aligning domestic policies with the fundamental ILO conventions.
More particularly, the engagement focusses on the removal of legal obstacles to the right to establish trade unions, the elimination of anti-union discrimination, the facilitation of the trade union registration process, the strengthening of the labour inspectorate, as well as the elimination of forced and child labour.