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BD’s growth can’t justify workers in poverty: UN expert

Published : Wednesday, 31 May, 2023 at 12:00 AM  Count : 331

The Bangladesh government must move away from its reliance on cheap labour if it is to ensure a rights-based development following its expected graduation from Least Developed Country status, a UN poverty expert has said.

"A country's comparative advantage cannot lie in keeping its people poor," Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said at the end of a 12-day visit to the country. "Bangladesh's development has largely been driven by one export sector -- the ready-made garment industry -- which is highly dependent on keeping wages low," he said.

De Schutter urged the government to use its upcoming graduation from LDC status in 2026 as an opportunity to rethink its reliance on the apparel industry, which currently accounts for 82% of the country's export revenue and employs 4 million workers, according to a United Nations Bangladesh statement.

"As Bangladesh moves towards graduation, it continues to focus much of its energy on providing tax incentives to international investors and establishing special economic zones," he said.

"The government's time and resources would be better spent on ensuring fair wages, educating and training workers, and improving social protection," the UN expert said.

"Not only will this attract investors who care about their reputation, it will pave the way for a new form of development in Bangladesh -- one driven by domestic demands rather than exploitative export opportunities," he said.

He expressed alarm at the chilling effect on the ability of civil society to operate freely of the government's NGO Affairs Bureau and the Digital Security Act -- under which journalists, human rights defenders, opposition politicians and academics have been detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and opinion.

"These developments will not only scare off the very investors the country is trying to attract, but they are also an obstacle to the realisation of economic and social rights," De Schutter said.

"You cannot deliver health care, education or social protection without also improving accountability and transparency."

During his visit, the expert travelled around the country and met with people living in poverty, the statement added.

He noted that while Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in reducing overall income poverty, multidimensional poverty remains high and income inequality has increased, particularly in urban areas.    �

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