Jean Lambert visited Bangladesh from December 6 -10 at the invitation of the Bangladesh Garment Manufactures & Exporters Association (BGMEA) to speak at their Apparel Summit in Dhaka in her capacity as chair of the EU’s delegation for relations with South Asia. Here is a summary of the Summit, and other engagements that were carried out in the side-lines thereof:
• At the Summit opening session Jean addressed the lack of progress on compensation regarding the Rana Plaza Arrangement, speaking on behalf of many in expressing disappointment that less than half of the $40 million required has been raised to date. Jean continues to lobby for this in the European Parliament. She also spoke at a summit panel alongside the Speaker of Bangladesh’s Parliament on social responsibility and gender empowerment.
• In addition, Jean visited the port city of Chittagong, meeting the Chittagong Port Authority, PHP (a ship recycling company), and Western Marine (a ship building company). Shipbuilding is a rapidly developing sector, and Jean welcomed progressive developments such as a health centre for the workers and their families, and also a skills training centre. However, there is a lot of work still to be done in both sectors to improve standards, and this is somewhere where the EU is cooperating with Bangladesh.
Other meetings undertaken by Jean included meetings with the Secretary Generals of both the Bangladesh National Party and Awami League.
Here is a brief summary of discussion with the Bangladesh National Party: They discussed the current political situation. The Bangladesh National Party raised concerns over the on-going charges being filed against some of their party leaders, disappearances and extra-judicial killings. These issues were referenced in the European Parliament’s Resolution of September 2014. They also discussed strategies to overcome current political impasse and the centrality of dialogue. The Bangladesh National Party said they would be willing to engage in dialogue but that the Awami League refused.
Here is a brief summary of discussion with the Awami League: They also discussed the current political situation in Bangladesh. The Awami League said that the current official opposition (Jatiya party) is robustly challenging the ruling party. Jean said while this was interesting, there was still a large percentage of the population that is not being represented in Parliament. The point was made that it can be a challenge for governments with an overwhelming majority to ensure the democratic space remains open. They also discussed the subject of dialogue with Bangladesh National Party – The Awami League expressed their openness for dialogue with the Bangladesh National Party but for reasons that go beyond making the Bangladesh National Party leader Khaleda Zia Prime Minister.
• At a press conference in Dhaka on the final day of her tour, 10th December, Jean reiterated the European Parliamentary position on the 5th January elections that: “Sincerely regrets the fact that the Bangladeshi Parliament and the political parties did not manage to agree on an inclusive mechanism for the elections, and calls on the government and the opposition to put the best interests of Bangladesh first as a matter of urgency and to find a compromise which would give the Bangladeshi people a chance to express their democratic choice in a representative way; believes that all options should be considered, including an early election if all legitimate political parties are willing to stand and offer voters a choice”
Also at this press conference, Jean fielded a request on the European Parliament resolution* of January 2014, where the Parliament called on Bangladesh National Party to “urge the BNP to unequivocally distance itself from Jamaat-e-Islami”. Jean confirmed that that this position still stands.
*That the European Parliament does not explicitly call on early elections, and not before a compromise is reached on the form of interim Government which is agreeable to all parties.