Bangladesh has ‘golden chance to destroy factory death traps’

Credit: Solidarity Center

When the US government suspended Bangladesh’s trade benefits under its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program for the country’s poor labor record earlier this year, it was a powerful signal that the Asian country could not keep doing business as usual, writes Tim Ryan, Asia regional director for the Solidarity Center:

The extent of the neglect was grimly highlighted by the fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory last November, where blocked stairwells and barred windows contributed to the deaths of 112 workers, and the Rana Plaza building collapse in April, in which more than 1,200 workers, most of them young women, died in a building they knew to be unsafe. 

Since the Tazreen blaze, the Solidarity Center’s Dhaka office has documented 53 fire-related incidents in garment factories, which have killed at least 27 people and injured more than 750. The most recent deadly fire occurred in early October, when 10 people perished. Despite hefty promises and comprehensive “action plans” from manufacturers and the government, the effort to improve fire safety in the Bangladesh garment industry will require commitment by all parties, including the workers who risk their lives every day just going to work. 

“Workers are the best monitors of conditions in their factories because they are on the shop floor every day, as opposed to auditors hired by companies,” Ryan writes for the International Business Times:

GSP pressure, international attention and the Accord have opened the political space for Bangladeshi workers to organise independent unions – for the first time in the garment industry’s history.  Fifty-six unions have been formed and registered in 2013, compared with only one each in 2012 and 2011, after decades of obstruction by government and employers

“The Bangladeshis have an opportunity to create a new business paradigm that respects and protects workers,” Ryan concludes.

Read the rest.

The Solidarity Center is an institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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Insecurity, ‘political dysfunction’ cast doubts over Libya’s transition

“Political tension and chronic insecurity are casting doubts over Libya’s ability to complete its transition to democracy, two years after the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi,” Agence France Presse reports:

After more than 40 years under Kadhafi, Libya held its first free elections in July 2012 to choose the General National Congress (GNC), the country’s highest political authority. It must now choose an assembly to draft a new constitution, but militias left over from the 2011 uprising, who control much of the country, bitter political infighting and threats to boycott the upcoming vote could derail the process…..

The liberal National Forces Alliance, the main grouping in the Congress, has “rejected the prolongation of the GNC’s mandate,” calling for a “clear roadmap to end the transitional period. ” Liberals and Islamists, the country’s second major political force, have also accused one another of blocking the road to democracy and attempting to seize power for themselves.

The Libyan government “lacks even 100 armed men who would lay their lives on the line to defend the abstract concept of the state. Conversely, the militias can rely on thousands,” according to Cambridge University’s Jason Pack, the editor of “The 2011 Libyan Uprisings and the Struggle for the Post-Qadhafi Future,” and Mohamed Eljarh, who writes on Libya for Foreign Policy’s “Transitions” blog:

In Western Libya, the most staunchly anti-government forces are a loose alliance of Islamists and certain powerful militias from the city of Misurata. Counterbalancing them are non-Islamist militias from the city of Zintan. In the East, “federalist” militias seek to obtain “justice” (meaning more power and money for their region).

As a result of this multipolar struggle, the country has become virtually ungovernable. Each group has its supporters inside the parliament: the Martyrs and the Muslim Brotherhood blocs have worked to further the influence of the Revolutionaries Operations Room — the group that kidnapped premier Ali Zeidan.

The state’s inability to rein in Islamist and other militias threatens to undermine Libya’s democratic prospects, as anticipated in a report from the National Endowment for Democracy:

Despite the problems plaguing Libya’s transition, the head of the U.N. Support Mission to Libya, Tarek Mitri, is upbeat, AFP adds.

“Despite enormous challenges, Libya continues to make progress on its own roadmap,” he said in a statement.

“The process of drafting a new constitution represents an opportunity for the Libyan people to forge a new social contract that will govern the new Libya.”

The recent cancellation of some U.S. military assistance to Egypt “could grant President Obama a novel opportunity to redirect some of the funds toward institution building in Libya without the need for Congressional approval,” Pack and Eljarh suggest.

“Mr. Obama should now seize this opportunity to create a virtuous precedent by switching his financial support from those who have perpetrated a coup to a country that might suffer one.”

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Arab world still locked out of prosperity

Credit: CIPE

It will soon be three years since Mohammad Bouazizi’s self-immolation triggered the so-called Arab Spring, writes the celebrated economist Hernando de Soto (above). Yet, where are we now?

Stable, functioning democracies have not mushroomed from nowhere. Economies have not blossomed. … Neither peace nor prosperity reigns, and extremists or entrenched elites seem intent on hijacking popular revolutionary upheaval to serve their own regressive agendas.

It’s discouraging, to say the least. But if Western governments paid more attention to what exactly prompted 26-year-old Bouazizi to set himself on fire in December 2010, they would be in a much better position to help the Arab Spring yield the kind of fruit they hoped it would.

Bouazizi was not an ideologue. He was not taking a political or religious stand. Rather, he was protesting the confiscation of his wares. Because he was extralegal – governed by people and not the rule of law – when authorities turned against him they took not only his fruit and scales but also his right to do business, his right to a location, his right to credit and capital, and his ability to recover. With no legal recourse, he was ruined.

Less than a year after Bouazizi’s death, I asked his younger brother what he thought Bouazizi had hoped to achieve through his act of protest. His brother’s response was unequivocal: “That the poor also have the right to buy and sell.”

Like the vast majority of working Arabs, these individuals did not have the protection of the rule of law. They were denied the kind of enforceable rules and standards that are essential to the functioning of a true market economy.

It is going to be difficult for regimes in the Middle East and North Africa to reverse this tide of popular unrest. They must begin by making the necessary reforms so that functioning market economies can emerge, giving all citizens the opportunity to progress and enrich themselves. For this to happen, stable political and legal systems have to be put in place. For a market economy to flourish, the rule of law has to apply equally to everyone.

But just as the Western world underwent the conflict and turmoil of the Industrial Revolution and came out the other side, so to must the Arab world undergo a period of transition. This is what is driving the Arab Spring; it’s an economic revolution.

Read the rest.

Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto is the founding president of the Lima-based Institute for Liberty & Democracy and an associate of the Center for international Private Enterprise, one of the National Endowment for Democracy’s core institutes.

This commentary originally appeared at The Mark News.

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European Partnership for Democracy

Egyptian democracy advocates at an EPD discussion

Check out the new website of the European Partnership for Democracy (not to be confused with the recently-launched European Endowment for Democracy):

We have re-shaped our website so it not only corresponds to our work, but also facilitates your search for valuable information and offers you a means of exchange with us.

As a Community of Practice, we are here to provide you with the latest information and news regarding democracy assistance, gather key ideas and initiatives, help build projects and collaborations that make sense, and correspond to reality in order to deliver. We needed a place to make this happen, and now you have it!

You can already find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Soon, you will also be able to comment on our articles and opinions through LinkedIn.

This website is a work in progress as both practice and technology evolve, so please feel free to send us your suggestions, ideas or remarks!

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