Bangladesh Business and Human Rights Week Landmark dialogue held to chart roadmap for responsible business conduct

Stakeholders highlighted the importance of removing barriers to responsible business as a vehicle for advancing sustainable development in Bangladesh

Press release | 02 March 2023
DHAKA – 2, March 2023: Leaders and representatives from business, the government, civil society, workers organizations and other actors joined a national dialogue today to discuss strategies to promote responsible business conduct in Bangladesh.

The dialogue comes at an important moment. In 2026, Bangladesh is set to transition from Least Developed Country (LDC) status to Lower Middle-Income Country (LMIC) status, a clear indicator of its economic strength and resilience to financial and climate shocks.

"Bangladesh will soon become a trillion-dollar economy, and the government is committed to ensure an institutional regime conducive to responsible business,” said Md. Ariful Hoque, Director of BIDA under Prime Minister's Office of Bangladesh. “Compliance with the UNGPs would ensure an inclusive and resilient LDC graduation,” he added.

Despite progress, the country continues to face issues such as business-related rights abuses and barriers to effective remedy. As the country prepares for LDC graduation alongside a growing number of leading economies adopting mandatory human rights due diligence (HRDD) legislation, the promotion of responsible business conduct and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) will help address these issues and ensure a smooth graduation and continued sustainable development.

During a keynote address, Pichamon Yeophantong, Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and Member for Asia and the Pacific, emphasized the urgent need to act. “The UNGPs represent a collective good, and all stakeholders are set to gain from their implementation. A sound, stable economy will help the government attract investment, they provide businesses with a guide of what they need to do, and they ensure the basic rights of people and the environment are respected and protected,” she said.

The national dialogue was the culmination of the Bangladesh Business and Human Rights Week organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with support from the Government of Sweden and the European Union through ILO-IFC Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) programme.

From 25 February to 1 March, a series of workshops – concluding today with the national dialogue – engaged different actors to reflect on the progress, pertinent challenges, and opportunities of responsible business conduct in Bangladesh. Discussions centered on the need to develop a roadmap for action on responsible business and what roles different actors can play to promote corporate responsibility in line with international standards like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

“As Bangladesh prepares for LDC graduation and upcoming mandatory human rights due diligence laws, the UNGPs provide guidance for states and businesses to play their part in protecting, respecting and remediating business-related human rights violations,” said Stephan Liller, Resident Representative of UNDP Bangladesh. “The UNGPs can also assist states and businesses in contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and UNDP remains committed to support efforts to implement these standards in Bangladesh and across Asia,” he added.

Speakers at the event noted that Bangladesh should make greater efforts to promote business and human rights to ensure the long-term growth of export-oriented industries – not only the ready-made-garments sector, but all industries – which are vital engines of the economy.

"The government, employers and workers’ organizations in Bangladesh have been successfully advancing labour reforms and promoting responsible business and decent work for all. ILO is committed to continue to support this work, which will protect Bangladesh’s hard earned economic growth and lead towards the achievement of the SDGs," said Mr. Tuomo Poutiainen, ILO Country Director in Bangladesh.

Many European countries are adopting legislation on mandatory human rights due diligence, which would require businesses of a certain size to identify, prevent and mitigate the adverse impacts of their operations on human rights, labour rights, and the environment. Since three-quarters of Bangladesh's exports are targeted for European markets, businesses in these nations will be required to demonstrate due diligence measures in their supply chains. Similar legislation and measures are being taken by other trading partners.

The event was attended by approximately 250 participants, including representatives from the government, employers’ and workers’ organizations, civil society, development partners, global brands and retailers, and academia.

Relevant information
  • The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which was unanimously endorsed by the Human Rights Council in June 2011, are the authoritative global standard on business respect for human rights. A set of 31 principles organised under the three pillars of 'Protect, Respect and Remedy', the UNGPs provide guidance to states and companies on how to prevent, address, and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations. The ILO's Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) provides direct guidance to enterprises on social policy and inclusive, responsible, and sustainable workplace practices. ILO Briefing Note  (Link)
  • Bangladesh improved its ranking in the Human Development Index (HDI) for 2021-22 (Link) and scored 0.714 on the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Index, making it one of the top countries in the region for closing the gender gap. It ranks seventh in the index’s sub-ranking of political empowerment (Link).
  • Bangladesh is rated as one of the ten worst countries in the world for working people in 2021, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index 2022 (Link), where over 35,000 Bangladeshis die at work every year, and 8 million are injured.

Link to event photos:

About ILO
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the only tripartite U.N. agency, since 1919 the ILO brings together governments, employers, and workers of 187 Member States , to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men. It was founded on the conviction that universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice. The ILO has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, and field offices in more than 40 countries.

About UNDP

UNDP works in 170 countries and territories to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality. We help countries to develop policies, leadership skills, partnering abilities, institutional capabilities, and to build resilience to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Our work is concentrated in three focus areas; sustainable development, democratic governance and peace building, and climate and disaster resilience.

UNDP’s Business and Human Rights in Asia project (B+HR Asia) – supported by the Government of Sweden – works to strengthen momentum on business and human rights in Asia, with specific focus on Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. B+HR Asia fosters partnerships with governments, civil society, human rights defenders, businesses, development partners and UN agencies to promote the business and human rights agenda and the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the region.

About Better Work
Better Work is a joint flagship programme of the International Labour Organization (ILO) of the United Nations and International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank group. It was launched in 2014 in response to the Rana plaza accident in Bangladesh to support the RMG sector. It brings diverse groups together to improve working conditions and enhance productivity. Partnering with 48 world’s leading brands, employers’ associations, the programme is supporting 450 factories and has impacted 25% of the total RMG workforce supporting 1.25 million workers in Bangladesh.

For further information, please contact:

ILO: MH Kawsar Rudro, Communications Officer,

UNDP: Md Abdul Quayyum, Head of Communications,