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U.S. Ambassador Dan Mozena Pushes for Labor Changes in Bangladesh

In the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster, Mozena has been at the forefront of many of the many discussions and negotiations among the multiple stakeholders.

U.S. Ambassador Dan Mozena has been at the forefront of many of the many discussions and negotiations among the multiple stakeholders in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster. He’s one of the key representatives of Western nations pushing for change in Bangladesh. Here, Mozena talks about the last year and what needs to be done.

WWD: Are there times when you have lost hope for an agreement among such widely differing parties?

Dan Mozena: My mother always said, and I really practice this, that the darkest clouds of life have a silver lining. What happened at Tazreen Fashion — that horrible fire of November 2012 — and April 24, 2013 at Rana Plaza…those were the darkest clouds you can imagine. But I do believe, and it’s now shown and demonstrated, that those dark clouds have the silver lining of energizing the transformation — that’s the only word I can think of — the transformation of Bangladesh’s ready-made garment sector in terms of bringing it to international standards for fire safety, international standards for factory structural soundness and international standards for respect for workers’ rights to freely associate and organize.

When I look at what has really happened over the last year, I see so many elements coming together in a constellation of progress that is really tremendous.

I’m not discounting the challenges but I see so many forces coming together in a constructive way that gives Bangladesh an opportunity — and I think they will seize it, although there are no guarantees in life, so we don’t know. But I commit myself to doing everything that America can to support this process so that Bangladesh becomes a preferred brand in the global marketplace. That’s the goal.

WWD: What do you see as the main forces that have come together?

D.M.: When I look at all these forces coming together, I see last June, President Obama suspended GSP [Generalized System of Preferences] privileges for Bangladesh. That was a real engine, a wake-up call to deal with these issues of workers’ safety and labor rights. And then, in July last year, in Geneva, there was a negotiation — EU, Bangladesh, ILO, America — called the Sustainability Compact. But the GSP action plan that Obama gave to Bangladesh, showing the kinds of measures that would need to be addressed to restore the GSP to Bangladesh —those steps are reflected in the Sustainability Compact to which Bangladesh made a commitment in July last year. There you have it: a commitment by Bangladesh to do a whole variety of things related to workers’ safety and workers’ rights. So you had the GSP Restoration Action Plan, you had the Sustainability Compact, you had another phenomenon — never before has it happened in the history of the ready-made garment industry ever — and that’s where you have competing brands coming together in two different groupings: One is called the Alliance [for Bangladesh Worker Safety], 26 or so North American companies, largely, and the other one called the Accord [on Fire and Building Safety], largely European and some American companies. Those two groupings coming together to affect change through inspections and through recommendations for remediation of safety concerns.

So that’s sort of a third area of engagement. You have the ILO, with financial assistance from the U.K., and Canada and the Netherlands — about $22.5 million, I think — it’s a program that ILO gives leadership to the inspection of those factories not covered by the alliance and the accord.

So all of the factory inspections are being covered. This is the critical piece. It is 100 percent — not 98 percent — of the factories must be inspected, must have plans for remediation to come up to international standards — or they’re closed. They have to make a decision. But they are not allowed to make their profits by putting their workers at risk. That cannot be.

WWD: Is the coordination between the different stakeholders happening in a cogent way?

D.M.: ILO has been playing a critical role and coordinating all this stuff. You have the ILO launching the largest ever “better work” program in the history of the ILO. This is fabulous. And their goal is within the initial period of the program, 500-and-some factories will come in, but they want to keep growing this and get up to about 800 factories. This is amazing stuff.

You have the alliance, the accord, you have the government of Bangladesh, you have everybody going everywhere.

So you have that, you have donors like America: We’ve had, over the last year and a half, something like $9 million, and another $5 million coming in to support all of this transformation process. And we’re also very much engaged in driving this — working with our fellow development partners, working with the government of Bangladesh — driving this process.

You also have many of the owners — not all the owners —who are also part of this transformation process. This is really important.

And the key ingredient, the absolute most-impressive element, is the government of Bangladesh

WWD: Has the government been playing its role sufficiently?

D.M.: It is impressive. The government of Bangladesh, led by the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Labor and the Foreign Secretary…hose three secretaries have come together and they’ve been tasked with driving the government of Bangladesh leadership in affecting this transformation. And out of this has come a process called the 3-plus-5: those three secretaries, and on the other side of the table, five ambassadors. There’s me: I represent the GSP Restoration Action Plan, I represent the Sustainability Compact, with which America is associated. And I represent the single largest market for Bangladesh’s ready-made exports, about 25 percent.

Then there’s the EU Ambassador. He represents the Sustainability Compact, and the largest collective market: 60 percent of Bangladesh’s exports go to the EU collective.

We have the Dutch ambassador there, he is wearing the hat of the local consultative group for private sector development. Those are all the donors promoting private-sector development. So you have the donors coming in through there.

And then you have Canada, because they are big contributors. And then you have a floating EU chair.

So that’s the five. We get together once a month for very dynamic meetings: These are not diplomatic wah-wah-wah kind of stuff. This is straight talk. The ILO is usually there; they are playing a supportive role. And we do business. And this is the process that’s driving the whole transformation.

WWD: Yet there are many things in many other areas that are not moving along.

D.M.: Yes, there’s much yet to do. I mean, the database is not populated. Where are the inspection results? That’s not in there yet. Where are the recommended remediations? Not in there yet. What’s the status of fulfilling the remediation efforts? Not in there yet.

I’m not a very patient person, so I want everything done yesterday. But things are happening, change is happening, and that’s very positive.