To address human rights, sustainable reporting, and responsible business, every business needs to have an inbuilt mechanism that would control its indulgence in insensitive trade focus and secure its course towards more pro-people production and manufacturing procedures. This was the motivation behind the United Nations Human Rights Council’s endorsement of the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights back in 2011.
Bangladesh has so far been successful in meeting the SDGs and a favourable environment can actually help to push itself into the higher echelon. When a sustainable reporting is practiced by businesses, it can very well work for enhancing the country’s image as a whole. At the same time, at the organisational levels, such reporting can help in mitigating negative environmental and social impacts. Perhaps the most important benefit arising out of it would be the enabling of the external stakeholders to more clearly understand the organisation’s true value, and tangible and intangible assets.
Bangladesh is aspiring to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles. We have amended the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 during 2013, and are currently in the process of doing another. To ensure the workers safety, the government has already declared minimum wages for 42 sectors and is pursuing to extend the coverage to other sectors as well. The country is moving at a reasonable pace towards a safer and compliant manufacturing industry since the unfortunate Rana Plaza disaster back in 2013. Already major improvements have been made in the compliance and safety issues at workplace.
The Government under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is also working to safeguard the environment. There is a global demand for eco-friendly apparel manufacturers, and Bangladesh is leading the change in successfully promoting this practice. As of May 2017, a total of 67 Bangladeshi RMG factories have received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the US Green Building Council (USGBC), one of the top green building rating systems in the world. Currently, the top three environment-friendly garment and textile factories are located in Bangladesh.
According to the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, human rights due diligence is: “An ongoing risk management process ...in order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how [a company] addresses its adverse human rights impacts. It includes four key steps:
1) Assessing actual and potential human rights impacts;
2) Integrating and acting on the findings;
3) Tracking responses; and
4) Communicating about how impacts are addressed.”
With the Guiding Principles in place, modern-day businesses are increasingly being expected to mitigate the risks around which they operate and manage their supply chains while acting in a responsible manner. Protection of human rights in business scenarios have historically been the primary obligation of the state.
At the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, we work in two divisions: the Law and Justice Division, and the Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Division. The Law and Justice division deals with the administration of justice and ensuring that human rights are not violated in the country by penalising the perpetrators. On the other hand, the Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Division works with the drafting of laws and the codification, consolidation, adaptation and technical amendment of existing law. The two bodies act in tandem to promote responsible business and ensure adherence to strict standards of human rights in the country.
Having a strict rule of law and enforcing it not only maintains the discipline in the country but also enhances its investment attractiveness. Businesses get a boost out of a stable environment, and this has major benefits in long run. The country can advance along the different rankings and indices that are used to gauge its development and help in achieving many objectives with ease.
Our government is also offering loans at 9% interest rate to the RMG sector, thereby promoting such green initiatives. I hope the next few years would be the dawn of a new age for Bangladesh -an age when businesses will have pushed their ethical and safety standards to the higher levels to compete in the global market.
Bangladesh has to increase its efficiency and productivity in the long run to survive the strong competition in the international arena, especially once it graduates from the LDC countries list, in the year 2024 as expected. The benefits of responsible business practices and sustainable reporting will usher in the new Bangladesh on its way to becoming a developed country by the year 2041.
The writer is Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs