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European Union: Response to Factory Collapse in Bangladesh

(May 21, 2013) In a statement issued on April 30, 2013, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Karel De Gucht,the Commissioner for Trade, expressed the EU’s commitment to assisting Bangladeshi authorities in any possible manner in the wake of the April 2013 factory collapse in <?Bangladesh. (Joint Statement by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht Following the Recent Building Collapse in Bangladesh (hereinafter Joint Statement), CONSILIUM (Apr. 30, 2013).)

The accident, which was the worst of its kind in Bangladesh, killed 1,127 garment workers out of the 3,000 in the building. As of May 13, 2013, the authorities have discontinued their search for survivors. (Bangladesh Ends Search for Collapse Victims; Final Toll 1127, USA TODAY (May 13, 2013).)

The EU officials urged Bangladesh “toact immediately to ensure that factories across the country comply with international labour standards including International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions.” (Joint Statement, supra.) In the Joint Statement, the EU also warned the Bangladeshi authorities that it is contemplating appropriate action, through the Generalized System of Preferences by which Bangladesh receives free quota? quota-free. and duty-free access to EU markets under the “everything but arms” program, “to incentivise responsible management of supply chains involving developing countries.” (Id.)

The EU adopted the policy of “everything but arms” in 2001, to assist the least developed countries by granting them free access to the EU market for all their exports, except arms and armaments. Bangladesh is among the 49 current beneficiaries of this policy. (European Commission, Everything but Arms (EBA) – Who Benefits, EUROPA (Apr. 30, 2013).) The EU initiated its trade relationship with Bangladesh in 1973. Trade relations culminated in the signing of a cooperation agreement on partnership and development in 2001. Since then, the EU has been Bangladesh’s largest trading partner. (Cooperation Agreement Between the European Community and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Partnership and Development (Apr. 27, 2001), 2001 O.J. (L188) 48.)

In addition, the EU urged European and international companies doing business in Bangladesh “to promote better health and safety standards in garment factories in Bangladesh in line with internationally recognized Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) guidelines.” (Joint Statement, supra; see also Shameema Rahman, Bangladesh: High Court Orders Property of Collapsed Building Owner Confiscated, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 13, 2013).)