Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Geneva for the “World of Work Summit 2023” saw her deliver a powerful message to the global community. Addressing the summit, she emphasised the importance of investing in social justice as a means to build peaceful, just, and inclusive societies worldwide. PM Hasina presented Bangladesh’s viewpoint and put forth several suggestions to ensure the promotion of social justice in international development agendas. Her visit highlighted the country’s commitment to labour rights, sustainable development, and the well-being of its citizens.
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Social justice: The foundation for lasting peace and sustainable development
In her address to the Plenary of the “World of Work Summit 2023,” PM Sheikh Hasina emphasised the significance of social justice as the cornerstone for achieving lasting peace and sustainable development globally. She stated, “We can achieve lasting peace and sustainable development on the foundation of social justice. We must invest in social justice in our efforts to build peaceful, just, and inclusive societies worldwide.”
Bangladesh’s perspective: Five suggestions for the global coalition
PM Hasina presented five crucial suggestions from Bangladesh’s perspective to strengthen the global coalition for social justice. She asserted, “It would be advisable to develop the coalition as a consultative or advocacy platform rather than as a norm-setting or negotiating forum.” Highlighting the need for collaboration, she added, “The coalition must guard against weaponising ‘social justice’ by one international quarter against the other in the current geopolitical context.” The suggestions presented were as follows;
- Consultative Platform: The Coalition should function primarily as a consultative and advocacy platform rather than a norm-setting or negotiating forum, fostering inclusive dialogue among nations.
- Avoiding Weaponisation: Social justice should not be exploited as a weapon in the current geopolitical context. The Coalition must work towards equitable and collaborative solutions, avoiding division and confrontation.
- Rules-Based Multilateral Trading System: The coalition should ensure that social justice is promoted within a rules-based multilateral trading system, preventing its misuse as a protectionist tool. The premier stated, “Instead of being used as a protectionist tool, social justice should be widely promoted under a rules-based multilateral trading system.” The PM also highlighted the need for broad-based support and collaboration, emphasising that the coalition should ensure support from the international financial institutions for promoting decent work and productive employment.
- Broad-Based Support: Prime Minister Hasina underscored the importance of garnering broad-based support from the International Labour Organization (ILO) constituents and other international financial institutions to promote decent work and productive employment.
- Youth as Champions of Social Justice: The premier urged the coalition to engage and empower the youth to become champions of social justice, as they hold the key to a sustainable future. During her speech, Sheikh Hasina underscored the role of the youth in championing social justice. She expressed, “The coalition should give attention to making our youth champion of social justice.” Recognising their potential as agents of change, she stressed the importance of engaging and empowering young people to create a sustainable future.
Bangladesh’s commitment to labour rights and sustainable development
Prime Minister Hasina highlighted Bangladesh’s commitment to labour rights and sustainable development. She mentioned that Bangladesh has ratified eight out of ten fundamental ILO Conventions on labour rights and is actively considering ratifying the remaining two conventions related to occupational health and safety. Noting the country’s efforts to eradicate child labour, she stated, “We have recently signed ILO Convention 138 on determining the minimum age for child labour.” PM Hasina highlighted Bangladesh’s commitment in this regard, underlining the country’s progress and future endeavours:
- Ratification of Conventions: Bangladesh has already ratified eight out of ten fundamental ILO Conventions on labour rights. The government is actively considering ratifying the remaining two conventions, focusing on occupational health and safety. The current Awami League government has established six new Labour Courts, in addition to the existing Labour Appellate Tribunal and seven Labour Courts. They are also institutionalising Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms with the involvement of social partners. Furthermore, a dedicated “Industrial Police” unit has been created to enhance industrial relations.
- Eradicating Child Labour: The government has taken significant steps to combat child labour. It recently signed ILO Convention 138 on determining the minimum age for child labour. The country has declared eight hazardous sectors free of child labour and initiated programs to rehabilitate 100,000 children engaged in unsafe work.
- Ensuring Worker Safety: Bangladesh has assessed the safety and working environment of all ready-made garment factories and made necessary improvements. The government aims to create a green and sustainable industry by introducing a “Green Factory Award Policy” and encouraging international buyers to support eco-friendly initiatives. She highlighted the government’s assessment of ready-made garment factories, stating, “The safety and working environment of all ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh have been assessed and the export-oriented ones have been remedied accordingly.”
- Strengthening Labour Welfare: Bangladesh has established the “National Research and Training Institute on Occupational Health and Safety” and increased the number of labour inspectors. Specialised medical services, accommodation facilities, day-care centres, and trade union registration processes have been improved to safeguard workers’ rights. The PM mentioned the Tripartite Consultative Council (TCC), which includes workers, employers, and the government, overseeing labour conditions in the country. She stated, “Our government raised the minimum wage for garment workers from Taka 1,600 to Taka 8,000.” She also expressed intentions to establish a policy framework for determining minimum wages through collective bargaining in different industrial sectors.
Building a smart Bangladesh and promoting innovation
PM Hasina underscored her government’s commitment to building a “Smart Bangladesh” aligned with the “Vision-2041”. She announced a special budgetary allocation for research and development and emphasised the importance of advanced technological training for the youth. She stated, “We are setting up specialised institutes for ocean research, aeronautics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and frontier technology to prepare our youth for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” In her speech, she highlighted the following initiatives:
- Research and Development: Special budgetary allocation worth $ 9.2 million has been made to promote research and development, with a focus on advanced technologies. The government plans to train 80,000 young individuals through Research and Innovation Centres in universities. She added that 650,000 IT freelancers in the country have been registered to bring them into the folds of the mainstream economy.
- Technical Education and Specialised Institutes: Bangladesh aims to increase the enrolment rate in technical education from 17 percent to 30 percent by 2030. Specialised institutes focusing on areas such as ocean research, aeronautics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and frontier technology are being established to prepare youth for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
Human mobility and climate change impacts
The Prime Minister highlighted the importance of addressing climate change impacts on human mobility and work environments. She called upon the international community to recognise and address the challenges faced by climate migrants and ensure a safe and orderly migration process around the world.
Ensuring safe and orderly migration
Addressing the issue of migration, Prime Minister Hasina stressed Bangladesh’s leading role in ensuring safe, orderly, and systematic migration. She mentioned the establishment of the “Expatriates’ Welfare Bank” and initiatives aimed at reducing overall migration costs and providing financial assistance to migrant workers.
During her visit to Geneva, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina not only delivered a powerful message on social justice and sustainable development but also engaged in side-line meetings to strengthen bilateral cooperation.
Enhancing investment opportunities: PM’s appeal to Swiss businesses
Sheikh Hasina emphasised the potential for increased investment during her meeting with President Alain Berset of Switzerland. Seeking to capitalise on new opportunities, PM Hasina requested the Swiss Confederation to encourage its businesses to invest more in Bangladesh. The meeting took place at the bilateral meeting room in Palais des Nations, where she highlighted the importance of Switzerland’s continued support for Bangladesh as it graduates from the Least Developed Country (LDC) status in 2026. She urged President Berset to advocate for an extension of the LDC facilities for an additional three years beyond 2026. In her discussions, PM Hasina provided insight into her personal journey, recounting her experience as a refugee following the assassination of her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Asserting her commitment to fulfilling her father’s vision of a developed and prosperous Bangladesh, she conveyed her eagerness to attract more Swiss investments and foster mutually beneficial economic partnerships.
Boosting Bangladesh-Switzerland collaboration with new MoU
Bangladesh and Switzerland have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to enhance skill training capacity and knowledge sharing. The agreement aims to widen opportunities for Bangladesh to export skilled manpower, specifically from the medical and IT sectors, to Switzerland. The signing ceremony took place after the bilateral meeting between PM Sheikh Hasina and Swiss President Alain Berset. Under the MoU titled “Knowledge Partnership and Skill Enhancement,” the two countries will engage in skill development and knowledge-sharing initiatives. Switzerland, known for its specialised institutes, including one in Zurich focusing on technology and innovation, plans to collaborate with Bangladesh’s new specialised institutes to strengthen research, innovation, and knowledge exchange. As part of the collaboration, Switzerland will also provide initial skill development training in the country, enabling the country to produce professionals that meet Switzerland’s requirements. This collaboration holds immense potential in fostering expertise exchange and addressing the demand for skilled professionals, benefiting both country’s labour markets.
PM recognises Prince Rahim and AKDN’s contributions
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her gratitude to Prince Rahim Aga Khan and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) for their significant contributions to Bangladesh over the course of many decades. During their meeting in Geneva, PM Hasina acknowledged the establishment of the Aga Khan Academy in Dhaka as a notable achievement. The academy aims to nurture future Bangladeshi leaders who will actively contribute to the country’s continued development. Building upon the bilateral relations that have been established through a ‘Protocol of Cooperation’ signed in 2013, Prince Rahim Aga Khan highlighted the progress Bangladesh has made in improving social and economic indicators, reducing poverty, and enhancing the quality of life for its citizens since gaining independence. Furthermore, the discussions between Prince Rahim and PM Hasina addressed the pressing issue of climate change. Prince Rahim shared AKDN’s experiences and programs aimed at reducing the carbon footprint and implementing climate adaptation and mitigation measures for green and sustainable development.
Bangladesh’s prospective membership in BRICS
Bangladesh is poised to join the BRICS as a member in August of this year, according to Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen. During a briefing on the outcomes of PM Sheikh Hasina’s meeting with South African President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa at Palais de Nations on the side-lines of world work summit in Geneva, Dr Momen revealed that BRICS Bank had extended an invitation to Bangladesh as a guest, with the intention of subsequently inviting the country to become a full member. The BRICS conference is scheduled to take place in South Africa in August, and PM Hasina is expected to attend. Currently comprised of five member countries, including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa- BRICS aims to expand its membership by including eight additional nations. During her meetings, the PM also called for enhanced bilateral cooperation, requesting South Africa to establish a mission in Bangladesh. Similarly, she urged President of Malta Dr George Vella, who also met with her at the same venue, to open a mission in Dhaka and explore opportunities for importing Bangladeshi ready-made garment (RMG) products and pharmaceuticals. These discussions reflect Bangladesh’s concerted efforts to forge stronger economic ties and create mutually beneficial partnerships with countries around the world.
To conclude, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Geneva showcased Bangladesh’s commitment to social justice, labour rights, and sustainable development. Her passionate address at the “World of Work Summit 2023” called upon the global community to invest in social justice as a fundamental pillar for peaceful and inclusive societies. The Prime Minister’s suggestions and Bangladesh’s own initiatives reflect the country’s dedication to promoting social justice, labour rights, and technological advancement. As Bangladesh strides towards its vision of a Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal), the government’s focus on social justice and sustainable development will play a vital role in shaping a prosperous future for its people.