Key Points from UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty and Human Rights’ Interview

Summarised by: Zara Mustafa

UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Olivier De Schutter, after completing his 12-day visit to Bangladesh made the following observations and suggestions:

Vulnerability to Poverty High 

Despite impressive improvements in poverty eradication over the years, the segment that is highly vulnerable to shocks remains significant in Bangladesh, which is why the number of new poor is on the rise. 

Lackings of the Social Protection System 

The current Social protection system is ineffective and inadequate. Moreover, the most significant portion of the money gets allocated to old age pensions for Civil Servants, leaving most of the others without coverage. Furthermore, the need for life-long protection is vastly ignored, which needs to be ensured. 

Minimal Wages Persist Despite High Economic Growth Rates 

High economic growth rates have not ensured the appropriate wage rise, which ideally should have raised the wages of the underpaid. 

Tradeoff Between Investment in Physical Infrastructure and Other Necessary Sectors

According to experts, there is under-investment in important sectors like health education, while the majority of the investment priority is allocated to physical infrastructure such as roads, highways, etc. 

Inequality: Threat to Sustainable Development 

Rising income inequality in Bangladesh is endangering the sustainability of poverty eradication and development in the long term. 

Limitations of Poverty Measurement 

The HIES poverty measure is inadequate as it does not reflect the hidden dimensions of poverty such as the portion of people facing social exclusion. The progress on Multidimensional poverty reduction is much slower than income-based poverty reduction. 

Inflation and Real Income Falling 

Wages and Social protection benefits are not adjusted regularly to inflation or the rising cost of living. While NGOs determined that the minimum earning of a single wage earner for a family of four should be Tk 51, 000, the minimum wage for RMG workers remains 8,000 which is alarmingly low. 

Caution to Prevent Beggar-thy Neighbor Attitude 

The benefits of tax holidays and subsidies given in the special economic zones impose the risk of investors’ deportation once the benefits expire. There is a lack of contingency planning for this risk materializing. 

Need for Greater Focus on Demand-driven Growth for Sustainability  

Relying heavily on development organizations for poverty alleviation is not sustainable. After the LDC graduation, growth needs to be driven by domestic demand by increasing wages and strengthening Social protection. 

Concerns about the Rohingya Crisis and Need for a Joint-Response 

As international aid is diminishing, the Rohingya community is facing poverty and Human Rights deprivation as they are entirely reliant on support, with constrained access to employment opportunities outside the camps. He urged for a joint response, reminding them it would not only benefit 980,000 Rohingyas but also 450,000 locals. 

Host Community’s Responsibilities 

The Host Community’s response seemed uncertain even though there certainly will be concerns about long-term settlement and repatriation challenges. However, not giving them access to employment would be a human rights violation. He made the proposal for ILO to finance building ditches and avoid erosion of riverbanks and help in Climate change adaption, beneficial to the Rohingya and the local communities. 

Advocacy for a New Branch of Social Protection for the Climate-refugees 

Every year, near about 1 million people are displaced due to climate change and find themselves in informal settlements without any solidarity networks. Since they are unable to vote, they are usually least prioritized by local politicians and councilors. They should be brought under social protection as soon as possible. 

Challenges to Track and Support Climate Migrants 

There is a lack of systematic records of climate migrants. Moreover, The Ministry of Disaster Relief lacks sufficient schemes to cover this segment. The international community must help Bangladesh with its Climate change-related challenges. 

Building on the Comparative Advantage of Low-wages: Not Sustainable 

The Unions in Bangladesh are heavily restricted and the workers protesting for higher wages are repressed in Bangladesh. In the case of the RMG sector, the Big International brands play a perverse role in this as they demand the lowest prices from Bangladeshi suppliers compared to Cambodia, Pakistan, Malaysia, and India. Insignificant wages, unadjusted to inflation are essentially keeping people poor which will make development unsustainable in the long term. 


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