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Commission delivers on its pledge to support #Rohingya refugees in #Bangladesh

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The European Union has been providing substantial political, development and humanitarian support in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis from the outset. It has so far made available €65 million in humanitarian assistance. With today's additional €15 million in support it delivers on its pledge to assist the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The support will deliver on the medium-term development needs of the refugees and their host communities in the Cox's Bazar region of Bangladesh. It will focus on community development, social cohesion, mitigating risks of tensions, as well as gender equality. On this occasion, International Cooperation and Development Commissioner Neven Mimica said: “Over half of the Rohingya refugees under 18 years of age, and the conflict has left many women having to look after their families alone. So the priority will of this €15 million support package will be on the needs of children, young people, female-headed households and families.” The above-mentioned support measures will help to make these communities more resilient – an approach also recognized by the Global Compact on Refugees, which is expected to be adopted before the end of 2018 and to be subsequently endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly. The EU is committed to help finding a sustainable solution to the Rohingya refugee crisis – it therefore welcomes the World Bank's recent pledge of development support and encourages other development donors to follow suit.

Bangladesh

Safety programme established six years ago in #Bangladesh has saved lives and stopped retaliation across hundreds of factories

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An independent mechanism allowing garment workers to directly raise safety issues is making factories safer and empowering workers to advocate for their own safety, according to a report published by the International Labour Rights Forum. The success of the complaint mechanism run by the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh – trusted by workers for its independence and its effectiveness – is one more reason why the programme should remain in Bangladesh and continue to operate independently until the government and local institutions are ready to take on the task. The next High Court hearing that could determine the future of the Accord is scheduled for this Sunday, 19 May.

On 15 May, 2013, three weeks after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi unions, global union federations, and apparel companies signed an enforceable agreement that holds the signatory brands accountable for safety in the factories where their garments are made. In addition to its robust and independent inspections program, the Accord provides a credible and effective mechanism for workers to raise complaints confidentially with protection against retaliation.

The Accord was established recognizing that inspections are only part of the solution to improving the safety of garment factories and that workers and their unions are in the best position to conduct day-to-day monitoring and reporting on workplaces conditions. The Accord’s complaint mechanism enables workers and their representatives to report concerns about health and safety hazards to an independent institution safely and, if they choose, anonymously.

“The Accord’s complaint mechanism radically reduces the possibility of another Rana Plaza,” says Laura Gutierrez of the Worker Rights Consortium. “The morning of the Rana Plaza collapse, workers who saw cracks in the walls tried to refuse to enter the eight-story building, but were forced to go to their sewing machines under threat of losing their month’s salary. It is clear that the tragedy of Rana Plaza could have been prevented if the workers had had a viable channel to make a complaint or refuse dangerous work.”

The report finds that the Accord’s complaint mechanism:

  • Is a truly independent avenue through which garment workers in Bangladesh are regularly raising concerns of safety violations.

  • Provides responsive and meaningful action and is successful at securing remediation. As a result, workers are increasingly more likely to trust and use the complaint mechanism.

  • Ensures that workers are able to exercise their right to refuse dangerous work.

  • Protects workers from retaliation.

  • Provides apparel brands and retailers with knowledge of factory-level issues that would otherwise go undetected and unreported.

  • Provides a high level of transparency by publicly reporting on all complaints received, with details about their current status and resolution.

  • Reduces potential gender bias in worker participation.

These outcomes stand in stark contrast with the still rudimentary system on the website of the government of Bangladesh’s Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments (DIFE).

“The government’s first attempt at establishing a complaint mechanism does not live up to scrutiny. There is a complaint form and contact information on a website, as well as a mobile app to submit complaints, but these do not allow anonymity. This mechanism reports only 25 received complaints since 2014 of which 13 were resolved, compared to 1,329 complaints received by the Accord during the same time period,” says Christie Miedema of Clean Clothes Campaign. “The Accord has referred many more cases that fell out of its scope to this government institution, which are not reflected on its website and thus appear to have been ignored.”

As this report shows, in addition to the more widely-publicized inspections program of the Accord, the Accord’s complaint mechanism provides an independent and critical tool for day-to-day monitoring of safety conditions by workers. “Thanks to its strong enforcement mechanism, the Accord is able to successfully provide remedy even in cases where workers were complaining about behavior of management. The inherent power imbalance between workers and their employers is why a genuinely independent mechanism with real sanctioning power that can stand up for workers’ rights is so crucial to meaningfully improve working conditions,” said Lynda Yanz of the Maquila Solidarity Network.

“The success of the complaint mechanism shows that, combined with the training program which educates workers on how to report potential safety violations, it is a necessary, life-saving complement to the Accord’s inspections program and a system to be emulated with the same levels of independence, transparency, and legitimacy in other countries and beyond the field of building safety,” said Elena Arengo of the International Labor Rights Forum.

The Accord’s independent inspections, trainings, and complaint mechanism have brought demonstrable changes to workers in Bangladesh and have increased international confidence in the country’s garment industry. With a new High Court ruling on the future of this program due on May 19, the four witness signatories to the Accord are once more stressing the need to continue the independent work of the Accord until the local regulatory mechanism has proven ready.

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#Bangladesh: New law must outlaw all marriages involving children, say MEPs

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MEPs note with concern the adoption of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which has loopholes providing for “legal authorisation for child marriage” in Bangladesh, the country with the highest rate of child marriage in Asia. The Act allows exceptions to the minimum age of marriage of 18 for women and 21 for men to be made in “the best interests” of the adolescent in “special cases” but fails to lay down criteria or to make the adolescent’s consent mandatory.

Parliament reaffirms its condemnation of all cases of forced and child marriage and calls on the government of Bangladesh to amend the Act so as to close the loopholes and outlaw all marriages involving children. It is worried by the “step backwards for Bangladesh in its efforts to eliminate child marriage” and urges the government of Bangladesh to commit to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, including ensuring gender equality and women’s rights.

ALDE MEP, Dita Charanzová (ANO, Czech Republic), who asked for this issue to be debated in plenary, said: "Child marriage is a violation of human rights. Bangladesh knows this and has tried to reduce levels of child marriage. However, creating special conditions for children to marry is not a solution. There can be no special cases when it comes to upholding human rights. The Bangladeshi authorities must act now to ensure these exceptions to the ban are clearly defined and very difficult to use."

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EU supports people affected by floods in Myanmar and Bangladesh

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bangladesh_floods_3column00_nospace_landscapeThe European Commission is providing emergency support to Myanmar and Bangladesh following floods and mudslides which affected thousands of people in both countries. Myanmar will receive €1 million and Bangladesh €500,000.

Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Commissioner Christos Stylianides said: "The EU stands by the people affected by the floods both in Myanmar and Bangladesh. With more rain on its way, the key priority now is to make sure people are safe – and then to help them rebuild their livelihoods. Our new humanitarian funding will provide immediate help to those in need through our partners on the ground."

The aid will be targeted at providing essential support such as food assistance and nutrition, shelter, water and sanitation. This is a first funding decision and further support could be allocated depending on needs on the ground.

Background

Situation in Myanmar

Myanmar has been experiencing heavy torrential rains since the end of June, associated with the Southwest Monsoon system which marks the start of the rainy season and lasts until October. The most affected regions are: Sagaing Region, Kachin and Shan States. Thousands have been displaced and have lost crops and other livelihood assets, along with their homes. Drinking water ponds and wells have been contaminated and infrastructure such as bridges and roads have been flooded or destroyed. To aggravate the situation further, the tropical cyclone 'Komen' hit Rakhine State between 30 July and 01 August, bringing more rainfall, severe winds and a storm surge in its wake. Reports indicate that 69 people lost their lives, with some 259, 000 people affected across 12 of Myanmar's 14 regions since June 2015.

Situation in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has also seen heavy floods and landslides as a result of pre-monsoon heavy rains occurring during the last week of June in the districts of Chittagong, Bandarban and Cox’s Bazar in the south-east of Bangladesh. A second period of heavy rain from 22 – 27 July caused new floods, landslides and further displacements. The tropical cyclone Komen has also crossed the same districts leaving more than 320 000 people displaced in cyclone shelters in Cox's Bazar and Chittagong.

In addition to the emergency funding, the EU's Civil Protection Mechanism has been activated at the request of the government of Myanmar. The European Commission's Emergency Response Co-ordination Centre (ERCC), which is the operational centre of the Mechanism, is liaising with Member States with a view to mobilizing assistance and expertise from Europe. The ERCC and the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) Myanmar office is monitoring the situation and is in close contact with humanitarians partners on the ground. Bangladesh has not yet asked for the activation of the Mechanism. The EU stands ready to help if asked.

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism facilitates the co-operation in disaster response among 33 European states (28 member states, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Montenegro, Norway and Serbia). These participating states pool the resources that can be made available to disaster-stricken countries all over the world. The European Commission manages the Mechanism through the ERCC.

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