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Bangladesh Business and Human Rights hold landmark dialogue

Published : 03 Mar 2023 02:09 AM

Leaders and representatives from business, the government, civil society, workers organisations and other actors joined a national dialogue Thursday to discuss strategies to promote responsible business conduct in Bangladesh.

The dialogue comes at an important moment. In 2026, Bangladesh is set to transition from Least Developed Country (LDC) status to Lower Middle-Income Country (LMIC) status, a clear indicator of its economic strength and resilience to financial and climate shocks.

"Bangladesh will soon become a trillion-dollar economy, and the government is committed to ensure an institutional regime conducive to responsible business,” said Md. ArifulHoque, Director of BIDA under Prime Minister's Office of Bangladesh. “Compliance with the UNGPs would ensure an inclusive and resilient LDC graduation,” he added.  

Despite progress, the country continues to face issues such as business-related rights abuses and barriers to effective remedy.

 As the country prepares for LDC graduation alongside a growing number of leading economies adopting mandatory human rights due diligence (HRDD) legislation, the promotion of responsible business conduct and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) will help address these issues and ensure a smooth graduation and continued sustainable development.

During a keynote address, PichamonYeophantong, Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and Member for Asia and the Pacific, emphasized the urgent need to act. “The UNGPs represent a collective good, and all stakeholders are set to gain from their implementation. A sound, stable economy will help the government attract investment, they provide businesses with a guide of what they need to do, and they ensure the basic rights of people and the environment are respected and protected,” she said.

The national dialogue was the culmination of the Bangladesh Business and Human Rights Week organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with support from the Government of Sweden and the European Union through ILO-IFC Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) programme.

From 25 February to 1 March, a series of workshops – concluded Thursday with the national dialogue – engaged different actors to reflect on the progress, pertinent challenges, and opportunities of responsible business conduct in Bangladesh. 

Discussions centered on the need to develop a roadmap for action on responsible business and what roles different actors can play to promote corporate responsibility in line with international standards like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

“As Bangladesh prepares for LDC graduation and upcoming mandatory human rights due diligence laws, the UNGPs provide guidance for states and businesses to play their part in protecting, respecting and remediating business-related human rights violations,” said Stephan Liller, Resident Representative of UNDP Bangladesh.

 “The UNGPs can also assist states and businesses in contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and UNDP remains committed to support efforts to implement these standards in Bangladesh and across Asia,” he added.

Speakers at the event noted that Bangladesh should make greater efforts to promote business and human rights to ensure the long-term growth of export-oriented industries – not only the ready-made-garments sector, but all industries – which are vital engines of the economy.

"The government, employers and workers’ organizations in Bangladesh have been successfully advancing labour reforms and promoting responsible business and decent work for all. ILO is committed to continue to support this work, which will protect Bangladesh’s hard earned economic growth and lead towards the achievement of the SDGs," said TuomoPoutiainen, ILO Country Director in Bangladesh.

Many European countries are adopting legislation on mandatory human rights due diligence, which would require businesses of a certain size to identify, prevent and mitigate the adverse impacts of their operations on human rights, labour rights, and the environment. 

Since three-quarters of Bangladesh's exports are targeted for European markets, businesses in these nations will be required to demonstrate due diligence measures in their supply chains. Similar legislation and measures are being taken by other trading partners.

The event was attended by approximately 250 participants, including representatives from the government, employers’ and workers’ organizations, civil society, development partners, global brands and retailers, and academia.

 The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which was unanimously endorsed by the Human Rights Council in June 2011, are the authoritative global standard on business respect for human rights.

 A set of 31 principles organised under the three pillars of 'Protect, Respect and Remedy', the UNGPs provide guidance to states and companies on how to prevent, address, and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations. 

The ILO's Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) provides direct guidance to enterprises on social policy and inclusive, responsible, and sustainable workplace practices.