International buyers might stop purchasing garment items from Bangladesh because of political violence and bad working conditions that threaten to hurt the country's image abroad, said a top EU diplomat yesterday.
"You are in a danger of spoiling your image; you are in a danger of spoiling your brand. I think that's clear," said William Hanna, ambassador and head of delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh, alluding to Tuesday's street violence.
Hanna, however, did not elaborate on it.
The absence of trade union for ensuring workers' rights at factory level created worries among the buyers from the EU and US, and sullied Bangladesh's image abroad, said Hanna.
He was speaking at a discussion on social compliance in the readymade garment sector in the capital's Ruposhi Bangla Hotel.
Hanna said the employers should change their attitudes towards the workers, as some owners are setting bad examples.
The EU is firmly committed to core labour standards and human rights, meaning no discrimination as well as equal opportunities for men and women.
"We do not expect you to match our own high labour standards, but we expect at least minimum standards."
Government officials, representatives from buyers' groups, workers' leaders, mid-level managers of different factories and garment makers also spoke at the discussion.
Praising the country's achievements in the garment sector, Hanna said: "I did not see such a success in my 30 years of career that a trade leads to job creation and growth in any least developed country."
Bangladesh has been doing well consistently in the EU. It exported garments worth $8.5 billion to the market last year.
Industries Minister Dilip Barua urged the garment makers and buyers to be rational in making profit.
The minister also called upon the buyers to increase the prices of garment items so that the makers can pay more to the workers.
Workers will not do well without good working environment, said the minister.
Economist Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said there should be elected representatives of workers to bargain with the management or owners at the factory level.
The workers should also enhance their productivity, he said.
Rubana Huq, managing director of Mohammadi Group, urged the buyers to come up with a joint fund managed by the factory management and buyers to ensure the workers' welfare.
"We could have done a lot for the workers, but we did a little under pressure from the buyers."
The workers' representatives urged the garment makers to share profit with the workers.
The buyers said Bangladesh needs to address labour issues and ensure better working conditions at the factory level.
Organised by Christian von Mitzlaff, managing director of LIFT Standard, a social compliance auditing firm, the discussion was moderated by Sekandar Khan, vice-chancellor of East Delta University.