It’s been over a year since the death of over 1,100 garment workers in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh focused world attention on labour standards in the emerging economies of Asia.
The tragedy led to calls for greater corporate responsibility and stronger efforts from importing countries to insist on better labour conditions. Yet a year on, has much changed?
On the anniversary of the disaster, the International Trade Union Confederation said Bangladeshi workers “still face face enormous obstacles and even violence and intimidation when they try to get respect for their basic rights.”
Elsewhere in Asia, the international labour movement also sees serious problems. Eight Asian members of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) got the lowest ranking for peacetime countries in the ITUC’s 2014 “world’s worst countries for workers” report. None made it into the highest category.
Ahead of October’s ASEM summit in Milan, should European countries be doing more to promote labour standards in Asia? Or, is it better for outsiders to mind their own business and allow Asian nations to find domestic solutions? Will the market eventually bring improvements anyway?
Our sister think-tank, Friends of Europe, held their Asia Programme conference earlier this month, bringing together high-level speakers from Europe and Asia to discuss the relationship. We took contributors’ questions on labor standards and human rights to some of the experts and policy makers attending.
Maarten thinks there is an international ‘race to the bottom’ for cheaper wages that has led to extreme situations of poverty and abuse. He hopes that organised labour movements in Asia and other parts of the world will start to drive up both wages and labour standards. Is that likely? This is the response from Sok Siphana, Advisor to the Royal Government of Cambodia and a Senior ASEM Official:
Contributor Aleksander believes the EU should push harder to ensure that economic development around the world is tied to greater respect for human rights. We asked David O’Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer at the European External Action Service (EEAS), if he agreed:
With an Asian perspective, here’s a reply to Aleksander from Yeo Lay Kwee, Director of the EU Centre at the National University of Singapore:
What’s your view? Should Europe insist that international trade deals include provisions on labour standards and human rights? Do differences in labour protection give Asia an unfair economic advantage over Europe? Is Europe really in a position to lecture on labour rights, given its record levels of unemployment? Is the fast-pace of Asian economic development bringing improvements anyway, without the need for outside interference? If you want to share your questions and opinions, let us know in the form below and we’ll get reactions from policy-makers and experts.