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Connecting People and Ideas for Integrated Development

Committee holds public hearing on Bangladesh garment industry problemsBangladesh hearing on the garment industry problems

Citizen participation in the legislative process has been largely absent in Bangladesh and civil society input is rarely incorporated into parliamentary procedure and practices. SUNY/CID’s PRODIP team has been working with parliamentary standing committees to support evidence-based policy deliberation based upon research and  testimony derived from public hearings. In the past 18 months, PRODIP has supported a number of Standing Committees their efforts hold hearing and solicit testimony on issues of national importance from concerned citizens and experts.

In April 2013, a tragic building collapse occurred in Dhaka, killing more than 1,100 people, most of them workers in the garment factories housed in the complex. This, following on the fatal Tazreen Factory fire in November where more than 112 people lost their lives, led the Chairman of the Labor and Employment Committee to take action. The Parliamentary Standing Committee organized a public hearing in a bid to ensure a safe work environment in garment factories in Bangladesh. PRODIP extended its technical support to the committee providing legal analyses of occupational security and safety laws and procedural support to the members and Chairman of the committee.

This daylong hearing was first of its kind in Bangladesh. The hearing was chaired by the Honorable Chairman Md. Israfil Alam, MP who said, “The purpose of the hearing is to recommend actions the government should take to prevent further incidents and ensure worker safety at their work stations.’’ He explained that the MPs in attendance would share their findings with the full committee and seek to formulate precise and comprehensive recommendation to respective government agencies.

He also expressed his optimism, “There is a latent potential of gain in every loss and damage; so the recent loss and this hearing can give us insight and experience that will help to protect our workers in future.” Nani Gopal Mondal MP, Member of the Committee said, “This hearing will be marked as a milestone in the Jatiya Sangshad (Parliament of Bangladesh) for the cause of workers’ rights.”

More than 75 witnesses, including victims and family members, experts from academia, the public sector, the garment owners association, CSOs concerned with occupational health and safety, national and international labor organizations, major buyers in Bangladesh and high level representatives from garment importing countries such as the European Commission, Canadian and British High Commissions participated.

U.S. Ambassador Dan Mozena testified and commented, “A public hearing is an important part of democracy; it’s called oversight. This is the role of the legislative branch – to oversee what exactly is happening in the country. I know this process very well. I have on many occasions sat in a very hot seat at the Congress of United States, with people like you asking very hard questions which are very uncomfortable. This is a sign of a true democracy.” Along with this, he also suggested to the committee Chairman, “The Current Rules of Procedure (RoP) do not allow this kind of hearing. This hearing is happening today only by ad-hoc decision of the Honorable Speaker.  Public hearings should be a part of your standard procedure. It should be a regular practice." Update: Read U.S. Ambassador Dan Mozena's full remarks (pdf)

Mr. Philip Jacques, First Counselor, Head of Cooperation, European Union remarked in his testimony, “This hearing is a very welcome step in activating parliamentary oversight over the executive branch.”

Workers from Rana Plaza gave testimony that they saw cracks in the building the day before the collapse and reported them, they reported that they didn't want to go in the building, but were strong-armed to do so by their managers.  Some lost their family members in the collapse.

Witnesses raised important issues and made recommendations for reforms such as:

  • Establishment of trade unions in garment factories as collective bargaining agents;
  • Strengthening the office of the chief inspector for factories and increasing its budget allocation;
  • Development of a joint monitoring committee comprised of trade unions, government officials and owners of the factors
  • Naming of an independent body to draft and implement a national fire and building code;
  • Amendment of the Labor Law approved by the Cabinet Division to meet standards to ensure workers safety in the factories;
  • Requirement that buying agencies buyer agencies should extend their technical and financial support to maintaining occupational and health safety for the workers.

Within days of the public hearing by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labor and Employment, some of the issues raised came into the center of the discussion at policy level and in the national dailies. The media coverage for the hearing included front page stories in several daily newspapers and 13 television channels reported on the hearing. Following this, a leading daily newspaper, Prothom Alo, published an editorial on the hearing.

Posted May 29, 2013
Updated August 6, 2013