INTERNATIONAL Development Minister Christian Paradis on Thursday announced Canada’s support for a joint initiative with the International Labour Organization entitled “Improving Working Conditions in the Ready-Made Garment Sector” in Bangladesh.

“Stimulating sustainable economic growth is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty, increasing security and encouraging equality. Canada’s support for this initiative is helping to ensure that Bangladesh is better equipped to provide safe and healthy employment for its people,” said Paradis. “Canada is working to build prosperity, security and stability in South Asia, and fostering sustainable economic growth in Bangladesh – is an essential element of this.”

Canada’s assistance will help ensure that Bangladesh’s garment factories are properly assessed for fire and building safety, unsafe factories are identified for remediation, and that robust and transparent labour inspections are carried out. The initiative will help create improved legislation and regulation of working conditions for women, men and the disabled, beginning in the ready-made garment sector, and later expanding to all sectors, to safeguard the rights of all workers.

“As was so tragically underlined earlier this year, improving working conditions in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry is imperative,” added Paradis. “This project will address the complex and serious challenges facing the sector, and secure lasting improvements to working conditions, in line with international labour standards.”

* Thursday’s announcement of $8 million over four years (2013-2016) in support of the joint initiative with the International Labour Organization (ILO).

* The total cost is estimated at close to $25.5 million. The ILO will provide $2.1 million, while the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have committed $7.8 million and $7.5 million, respectively.

* The initiative will provide technical support to Bangladesh’s National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire and Building Safety and the ILO-brokered Joint Statement adopted in May 2013 by the tripartite partners (government, employers’ and workers’ organizations).

* The initiative will provide a coordinated approach to addressing the complex and serious challenges facing Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry, and to secure lasting improvements to working conditions in Bangladesh, in line with international labour standards. Coordination will include with other initiatives developed to respond to the challenges facing the sector, which include the North American brands-led Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, to which Hudson’s Bay Canada, Walmart Canada, the Canadian Apparel Federation and the Retail Council of Canada are signatories.

Activities will also include the following:

* establishing and promoting appropriate common standards for factory safety assessments, and facilitating agreement among all stakeholders toward their application;

* providing technical expertise, coordinating agreements and providing necessary technical equipment to complete the preliminary assessments of some 2,000 factories;

* equipping and training current and new recruits to the factory inspectorate;

* strengthening the capacity of the fire and building inspectorates, including greater knowledge and awareness of gender issues among labour inspectors, and ensuring solid representation of women inspectors; and

* responding to the government’s request to the ILO to establish and implement the Better Work Program in Bangladesh. This is an innovative partnership program between the ILO and the International Finance Corporation.