Schultz and Ploumen to visit Bangladesh

Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen and Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment Melanie Schultz van Haegen will visit Bangladesh from 14 to 18 June. Textiles and water form the focus of the trip, which aims to strengthen bilateral trade and development ties. A multi-stakeholder delegation comprising representatives of Dutch water companies, textile companies, trade unions, NGOs and pension funds will accompany the ministers.

Textiles

Since the Rana Plaza clothing factory disaster two years ago, Ms Ploumen has been committed to improving working conditions in Bangladesh’s clothing factories. On Sunday 14 June she will meet with local trade unions and Bangladesh’s trade minister to discuss the textile industry’s progress on safety, the environment and working conditions. ‘Much has changed since the Rana Plaza disaster,’ said Ms Ploumen. ‘Thousands of inspections have been carried out and factories have been renovated. But there’s still a long way to go. The Bangladeshi government must keep going. We want Bangladesh to set an example for other countries.’

On Monday the ministers will visit two clothing factories that comply with newly introduced regulations. The Dutch-run JJH Textiles factory has only recently opened and specialises in sustainable clothing production. The Bangladeshi-run DBL factory is working hard to implement improvement measures and is a leader in environmentally friendly waste water processing. ‘The technology to treat industrial waste water cheaply and reliably is widely available,’ said Ms Schultz. ‘High-quality water treatment needn’t be expensive. In fact, it actually reduces costs because factories use less water. There is a role for Dutch water companies to play here.’ For Ms Ploumen, ‘these positive examples show it’s possible to play by the rules in Bangladesh and still make a profit’. ‘It’s time that all factory owners and politicians realised this,’ she remarked.

Later on Monday, Ms Schultz and Ms Ploumen will meet with Bangladesh’s foreign minister. Ms Schultz will talk about the immense water management challenges faced by the country, while Ms Ploumen wants better protection for employees under Bangladeshi labour law and the freedom for workers to be actively involved in trade unions. More financing must also be made available to improve conditions in factories. The multi-stakeholder delegation will visit a neighbourhood that is home to several sewing workshops.

Water

Bangladesh’s position as a delta country with a developing economy means it faces significant water challenges. High river discharges and cyclones mean that the country is often hit by heavy flooding. In addition, rapid industrialisation is causing groundwater in Dhaka to drop by two metres each year and there are significant issues surrounding drinking water and water treatment. ‘Bangladesh’s water management challenges are immense,’ remarked Ms Schultz. ‘On the one hand, there is too much water: almost nowhere else is the power of nature so apparent. But, on the other hand, there is a significant shortage of clean water. Bangladesh must become more resilient: for disasters this means preparing instead of repairing. Dutch water knowledge and expertise can help Bangladesh to do this.’

On Tuesday the ministers will visit projects where Dutch companies are putting their drinking water, drainage and dredging expertise to good use. They will also attend a meeting with the World Bank on water cooperation. In the evening there will be a trade dinner where Dutch and Bangladeshi businesses can explore opportunities to work together. After this, Ms Ploumen will return to the Netherlands.

On Wednesday Ms Schultz will visit the south of Bangladesh where, with Dutch support, investments are being made to increase flood resilience, improve sanitation and tackle poverty. She will visit newly constructed drainage polders and speak with some of the 18 million people who now have toilets thanks to Dutch assistance.

On Thursday Ms Schultz is expected to meet Bangladesh’s prime minister and will visit Dutch companies operating in Chittagong port. ‘Efficient, working ports are vital for economic development in countries like Bangladesh. With the latest knowledge, insights and innovative finance, Dutch businesses can, in cooperation with their European counterparts, make real inroads for sustainable port development,’ said Ms Schultz. After the visit, the minister will return to the Netherlands.

Since late last year the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Affairs have worked together as part of the Inter-ministerial Water Cluster (IWC). The cluster aims to further strengthen the Netherlands’ international position in the area of water management, as demonstrated by this first bi-ministerial visit to Bangladesh.