INTERNATIONAL TRADE UNION CONFEDERATION
Complaint lodged against the European Commission for failing to uphold fundamental human rights in trade policy
Brussels, 12 June 2018 (ITUC OnLine): The ITUC, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the HEC-NYU EU Public Interest
Clinic have today filed a formal complaint with the European Ombudsman. The labour rights organisations claim the
European Commission is not taking into account its human rights obligations regarding trade policies towards Bangladesh,
and is not transparent about doing so.
Bangladesh benefits from preferential tariffs on its exports to Europe under the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences
(GSP), an EU instrument which was enacted to encourage sustainable development in beneficiary countries. The GSP
requires those beneficiary countries to maintain certain labour standards and to respect human rights. As a
UN-classified least developed country, Bangladesh benefits from the most favorable regime under the GSP, the “Everything
But Arms” arrangement (EBA). As the name suggests, the EBA scheme grants duty-free and quota-free access to the EU
Single Market for all export products except for arms and ammunition. Bangladesh is the most significant beneficiary of
the EBA, and the EU is Bangladesh’s primary trade partner. The ready-made garment (RMG) industry accounts for a large
majority of Bangladesh’s exports and employs four million workers.
Bangladesh has committed serious and systematic violations of fundamental workers’ rights. Conditions there are unsafe
for millions of workers. 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 European Commission has urged Bangladesh to improve conditions, but has not launched a formal investigation
concerning Bangladesh's GSP status, while the GSP would provide a very powerful tool for the Commission to ensure that
economic development does not leave workers behind. Furthermore, the Commission has failed to create a transparent and
objective process for deciding when an investigation should be launched, making it impossible for NGOs or others to
“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. We are working
closely with the ETUC on this issue, and thank them for their support,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
“As Bangladesh’s largest trade partner, the EU has a responsibility to ensure that the workers who make Europeans’
clothing are operating in safe factory conditions. Launching an investigation will not lead to an automatic cut-off of
Bangladesh’s trade privileges – instead, it shows that Europe is committed to upholding labour standards fairly and
consistently,” said Paige Morrow, Executive Director of the HEC-NYU EU Public Interest Clinic.
The full complaint and appendices can be found here: https://www.ituc-csi.org/bangladesh-complaint-to-the