EU considering trade action against Bangladesh in order to pressure Dhaka to improve safety standards after a building collapse killed hundreds of factory workers

The European Union is considering trade action against Bangladesh, which has preferential access to EU markets for its garments, in order to pressure Dhaka to improve safety standards after a building collapse killed hundreds of 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.

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

The Swiss-based IndustriAll Global Union, which represents 50 million workers worldwide, yesterday set a May 15 deadline to finalise with Western retailers a commitment to a fire and building safety plan for Bangladesh.

It said funds will be made available for inspections, training and upgrades of dangerous facilities, and called on retailers to renegotiate contracts to pay suppliers more in order to guarantee living wages for workers and to enable technical upgrades to factories.