Pillars in Practice Project Update: Bangladesh

Interview with the CSR Centre Bangladesh on the climate for labor rights in Bangladesh

August 2013

Farhana Sharmin, Program Officer at the CSR Centre Bangladesh

Farhana Sharmin is the Program Officer at the CSR Centre Bangladesh, an implementation partner in SAI and the Danish Institute for Human Rights' 'Pillars in Practice' (PIP) Project. The project is centered on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In February 2014, the Project will convene its second multi-stakeholder advisory committee meeting in Dhaka, following up on progress from the May 2013 meeting. Since May, there have been substantial changes in Bangladesh's labor laws, in addition to the international media spotlight following the Rana Plana tragedy.

SAI Communications Manager Joleen Ong interviewed Ms. Sharmin, who reflected on the PIP meeting in May, her experience with SAI's SA8000 course and more broadly, the climate for human rights in Bangladesh:
Joleen Ong: Can you tell me about your role at the CSR center Bangladesh? Also the CSR Center's role in the Pillar in Practice course?
Farhana Sharmin: I've been at the CSR Centre for a year and a half as the Program Officer, where I'm involved in programs, research and help to organize a lot of seminars, roundtable discussions that focuses on responsible business practices and also trainings on CSR for diverse groups.
As an implementing partner in the Pillars in Practice Program in Bangladesh, I am engaged with promoting the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights in the garment sector. A big part of the CSR Centre's role is to raise awareness across all stakeholder groups.
JO: The PIP Program's MAC meeting in Dhaka in May was quite well attended. In your opinion, what was the most interesting moment that you observed?
FS: There was a breakout session where we asked participants to prioritize the human rights issues in Bangladesh that needed more focus. The priorities that were identified were forced labor, child labor, support for vulnerable groups in the workplace, transparency in management, security and conflict, health and safety and respect for trade unions.
JO: As the meeting took place shortly after the Rana Plaza tragedy, how do you think it impacted the tone of the meeting? Was there a deeper interest in the issues expressed by participants?
FS: The timing was right to discuss the Guiding Principles - participants were really interested in this topic, and even now, this is the main thing that is a key topic of discussion. During the meeting, various groups attended such as trade unions, international brands, factory owners and buying houses, and everyone spoke with each other about solutions to improve the garment industry.
A key issue that the factory owners brought up was the different buyers' code of conducts that they monitored against. Most stakeholders agreed that there needs to be a common language between all stakeholders in the supply chain regarding Code of Conduct (CoC) and defining human rights and labour rights concerns.
JO: What is some of the follow up that has taken place since the MAC meeting?
FS: After the MAC meeting, we have been engaged with the BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association) in disseminating the Pillars in Practice Project's goals and objectives. We met with the BGMEA's President and other representatives to present and discuss with them the need for these Guiding Principles. So far, the interest has been there - it seems like right now in Bangladesh everyone wants a solution.
JO: With the recent US suspension of trade privileges in Bangladesh - how do you think it will impact the garment sector? How do you feel about it?
FS: I feel sad about it - I know that many here see it as punishment for the garment sector. But overall, I don't think it'll impact this sector because that's not where we have trade privileges. Buyers will still come to Bangladesh if there cheap products. However, we have to make sure that the human rights of workers continues to be put in the international news - this situation needs to improve.
JO: You just completed the SA8000 auditor training, how did it go? Why did you take the course, and how might some of the learnings from it be applied in your daily work?
FS: The mission of CSR Centre is to be recognized as the centre of expertise for CSR in Bangladesh by sharing knowledge and providing expertise and services to promote sustainable development through responsible business practices.
 I attended the training to have an in-depth understanding on human rights issues. The five day training on ‘Introduction to SA8000 and Basic Auditor Course’ gave me a deeper understanding on workers’ rights, workplace conditions, management system and international human rights norms.
Now, I will be able to share my knowledge on these issues with different stakeholders in different forums.
'Like' the Pillars in Practice Program on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1dF8xMN.  For more information, contact SAI Sr. Manager of Research & Stakeholder Relations Alex Katz- AKatz@sa-intl.org.   
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