George Benson-Patterson

George Benson-Patterson
CAPI Intern: May 2012-December 2012

George was our second intern in Bangladesh and workded as a Program Assistant for 6 months with WARBE Development Foundation, a civil society organization which focuses on Migrant Rights in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This internship is part of CAPI's 2011-12 Students for Development Program, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

George Benson-Patterson is a third-year honours political science and history, with particular interest in the construction of identity through social programmes. He has been an active member of the university body since coming to the University of Victoria in 2009. He has been to the National and World Model United Nations conferences and won awards for diplomacy on both occasions. Closer to home, George works in distance education a marker and youth-involvement contributor and has been active in civics education with young kids. Outside of his academic interests, George has cultivated a deep and abiding love of the written and works on short stories, poetry, and personal reflections as often as he can.

Blog entries

Victoria, Day 32 - Goodbyes and Thankyous (Feb. 1, 2013)

This is my final Podcast with the Centre for Asia-Pacific Iniatatives, where I offer some thank-yous, some thoughts on my time in Bangladesh, and a few sounds from the street, as it were. 

Thank you again to the Centre, including Robyn Fila, thank you to the University, especially Dr Xu, to the past and present CAPI interns including Adam, Cate, Chandra, Kate, Karen, Andrew, Kelly, Beaudin and Maurgerite, to the WARBE staff and administration (Saiful, Faruque, Jasiya, Shoeib, Mahabub, and Dipa), to the other SFD interns, and to my family and friends. It takes a village to raise a person and it certainly took all of the support from you to see me through this. I can never repay any or all of you for what you've done, but I hope you know how much it means to me.

Listen to podcast (MP3).

Victoria, Day 27 - Interview With Adam Tran (Jan. 27, 2013)

A wonderful moment in which I sit down with Adam Tran, fellow CAPI intern, and talk about our experiences in South Asia. We talk about readjustment, the things we miss about the people and places there, and some of our feelings about the whole experiences.

Listen to podcast (MP3).

Dhaka, Day 101 - The Legislative Process in Bangladesh; a Look Ahead to ILO Convention 189 (Sep. 12, 2012)

Parliamentary Structure

Bangladesh is a Parliamentary democracy of the Westminster tradition and its governmental and legislative practices follow in a similar continuation, with minor deviations based on local cultural practices or governmental inclinations. Like most Westminster countries, legislative prerogative is exercised primarily by the executive, in this case, the cabinet and the Prime Minister. The Bangladesh National Assembly, or Jatiyo Sangshad, exercises a more informal process of legislation-making - prior to a legislative session, there is no formal compiling of legislative priorities in a calendar or overarching document and ministries will often have to sponsor particular requests towards the cabinet which will then approve them and draft bills for the entire assembly to vote on. (Murphy, 2006: 136)

To ensure that the legislative process is still maintained in an orderly fashion, a creation of British colonial rule still remains in Bangladesh in the form of the Secretariat Instructions. A document governing the conduct of all Bangladesh government ministries, the Secretariat Instructions are administered by the highest civil servant in each ministry and work as a set of guidelines to ensure that each ministry is performing its duties as required. Because ministries also help set the legislative agenda, this document can help determine what priorities arise from (Ibid: 137) and how they are presented to the government.

The Drafting Process

The traditional practice of legislative formation is for ministerial experts, or even outside lawyers to draft a policy paper that will be presented to the cabinet informing them on a particular issue from that ministry's perspective. Murphy (137) suggests that outside consultation is unusual during this process, and indeed the experience of WARBE and other NGOs in Bangladesh shows this, in that breaking into this process is only possible provided the correct connections have been made and considerable lobbying done for inclusion to these powers. These policy papers must be self-contained and ensure a thorough informing of the cabinet on the issue - in cases where expenditures are involved the approval of the Finance Ministry must also be sought. As per standard Westminster practice, a committee will be struck to review the issue, generally made up of four (varying) ministers, who will either recommend that the issue be discussed by the entire cabinet, send it back to the proposing party for further consideration, or reject it outright. If the approval of the entire cabinet is reached, then the matter will be sent to the Prime Minister for their final consideration.

If the Prime Minister approves the proposed policy, then the original proposing Ministry, now referred to as the "Ministry in Charge," can now draft a fully formed legislative bill on their issue. This will be sent to the Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs for further review; the Law ministry has a review mechanism known as the "Drafting Wing" which reviews bills currently being drafted by ministries and if that ministry wishes, can prepare a preliminary bill based off the information given to the cabinet - but it would seem this option is not exercised in more than 10% of cases (Murphy, 2006: 138). The Drafting Wing's purpose, seemingly, is to advise the Ministry in Charge of any legal or political inconsistencies within the drafted bill, as many ministries to not maintain an active legal staff. It is important to note here, then, that most of the drafters are not active experts in any particular field of law or the law being discussed in the proposed bill.

Parliamentary Review and Voting

Process of Law Creation

When the drafting stage is finally completed, the bill will be proposed as a government bill*  and go through the requisite first, second, and third readings. The assent of the President is required upon after an affirmative majority vote by the Jatiyo Sangshad, who may reject the bill once, but cannot refuse the prerogative of parliament a second time. During the second reading phase, the proposing member may suggest to the House that the bill either be put to consideration, or committees, either ones already standing or a select one created for an express purpose, finally, the bill may be put to the public, with the proposing ministry suggesting a list of eminent public figures or organizations whose input should be sought.

In committee sessions, the bill is reviewed, explored, and amendments may be made. When these deliberations are completed, the committee report (potentially with proposed amendments) will be reviewed by the Jatiyo Sangshad. If there are no changes, then the proposer, who sits in the committee as an ex officio member, may move to accept the bill immediately, otherwise those wishing to amend it have three days to present their changes. Amendments will not be accepted without prior approval of the cabinet if it is felt that they alter the fundamental essence of the law being proposed. Proposed amendments by private members must first be reviewed by the Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry before being presented to the House, but after review, may be considered along all other matters.

Once the amendment procedure has been completed, the bill will be presented for a third and final reading, where most often the member-in-charge will present it to the speaker to be considered by the House. The speaker will generally cast a vote on this motion without a debate, and then depending on the result, move into voting procedure after quorum (60 members) has been taken. The same procedures for amending or repealing a previously existing law, as no separate Constitutional provisions exist regarding these actions (Murphy, 2006: 140)

Presidential Assent and Associated Powers

When a bill has been passed by the House, it is sent to the President to receive their assent. If the President decides that the bill deserves further amendment or consideration, they may send it back to the House once, but if upon receiving this request the House subsequently re-affirms the bill, then it is considered to be assented to and becomes an Act of Parliament. In the case of a money bill, the President cannot return said proposed-law to Parliament.

It bears mentioning that the President has the power under Article 93 of the Constitution to pass "Ordinances," which are temporary laws that enter into force immediately, independent of parliamentary approval, in times of great emergency or stress in the country or when the House is out of session. These ordinances are drafted with the assistance of the Ministry of Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs and then must receive Cabinet and the Prime Minister's approval, and they cannot contravene any constitutional principles and can be removed immediately by either the Cabinet, or the House (by majority vote) once it has returned to session.

Labour Law in Bangladesh

Currently, labour law in Bangladesh is governed by the Labour Act, 2006, which was an effort to consolidate all pervious laws regarding labour governance in the country (14). It functions as the governing body of law relating to most occupations, excluding education employees, overseas seamen, domestic workers (who are defined as "domestic servants."), and several other professions (14). Because domestic workers are often informally employed, there are currently no statistics on the total number of them in Bangladesh, further adding to their disenfranchisement.

As per the terms of the act, a "worker" is defined as:

"(Lxv) ‘worker' means any person including an apprentice employed in any establishment or industry, either directly or through a contractor, to do any skilled, unskilled, manual, technical, trade promotional or clerical work for hire or reward, whether the terms of employment be expressed or implied, but does not include a person employed mainly in a managerial or administrative capacity[.]"

Based on the text of Convention 189 it is unclear whether or not the Government of Bangladesh, if it decided to adopt and ratify said instrument, would create a separate act, or work to amend the act as it stands. Given that there is a section specifically on "Employment and Safety of Dock Workers" it is not unthinkable that a separate section could be created within the act that identifies the dangers and specific requirements necessary for domestic workers.


* Private members bills are allowed, either by members of the government or the opposition, and specific places are afforded for these motions in the House's Orders of the Day, and if the motion is accepted, the process is much the same as in a government bill. Even still, the Jatiyo Sangshad has rarely considered private members bills.


"Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh (1973) Current to 17 May, 2004," Parliament of Bangladesh, accessed 09 September, 2012 <>

"Bangladesh Parliament," Government of Bangladesh, accessed 09 September, 2012. <>

Labour Act, 2006. Jatiyo Sangshad. <>

"Ministries and Divisions," Government of Bangladesh, accessed 09 September, 2012. <>

Murphy, Gavin. "How Legislation is Drafted and Enacted in Bangladesh," Statute Law Review. Volume 27, Issue 3, 2006. Pages 133-149

Dhaka, Day 50 - An Article (Jul. 24, 2012)

Linking Migration and Development - Lessons from the WARBE Development Foundation

(an article for WARBE's up-coming newsletter by George P.R. Benson-Patterson)

In a grainy photo stand four people - three women in brightly coloured saris and one boy in a simple white shirt - each holding a protest sign, green with red or white writing. The last sign on the left reads, "Love migrant workers as they are your partners in development - WARBE DF." The photograph is undated, but would have been taken in the late 1990s as the campaign for the ratification of the 1990 UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families was beginning to pick up in Bangladesh, in large part thanks to the efforts of the WARBE Development Foundation.

Some twenty years later, Bangladesh has finally signed and ratified the Convention, though the laws ensuring its upholding are still being struggled over. But the message that that small boy held so proudly during the rally remains unfulfilled.

There is hope, however.

Recent international events including the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and recent European Union and Swiss documents on international development have all shown a willingness to understand that migration stands at the complex nexus of a number of key strains of international affairs. We must understand that migration is indeed an integral part of development, and vice versa,, but that it is important to know what we mean by development when we say it. People have offered many different definitions for the word as time has gone on: for some people development refers only to Gross Domestic Product and its ascent, for others it involves per capita income and the GNI coefficient, for us at the WARBE Development Foundation, we feel that development cannot be separated from the people it should benefit. First and foremost, we believe in human development. Material gains in a country should be shared amongst all the people and these gains should not tarnish or threaten the traditional way of life amongst a people. When a country develops, the ability of its people to lead lives that they value and most importantly, lives that they themselves have chosen.

Now, more than ever, as international and domestic actors begin to see the issues of not just migration and development, but also trafficking, and human rights as inherently interconnected, we must be vigilant to ensure that a vision of development (and all of the other issues that lie at its heart) are addressed with a vision that includes just that human-centred way forward.

Recognising migration as a part of development means that we have a clearer, but not completely coherent picture of migration It also means that while we have new sources of innovation and revenue to draw on for our activities, the problems and challenges surrounding migration become that much more complicated. We must work harder to understand migration and educate people on what it means both in terms of its impact and how we can best ensure that those involved in it are safe and treated with dignity.

On this count, the WARBE Development Foundation has many lessons to offer.

The WARBE Approach

The WARBE Development Foundation understands that we cannot separate separate migration from development, but that any policies or actions taken must always underscore the rights and dignity of all parties involved. All processes around these issues are clearly in need of improvement and reformation and in this regard, WARBE believes we can address the issues of migration and development in three key ways:

(1) Advocacy: change the opinions and the policies of the concerned parties, be they the national government, recruiting agencies, private corporations, or other countries;

(2) Education: give the people concerned with migration, be they the migrants themselves, their families, or the government officials working with them, an understanding of the problems that exist and how best to tackle them;

(3) Empowerment: give migrants the knowledge and tools to reach for their rights and to come together in community based organisations to hold their government accountable when it comes to their rights and welfare.

The Struggles Ahead

Development is frequently heard on the mouths of leaders and thinkers the world over, be it concerning the slowing economic development of many already industrialised countries, or the rapid and exploding growth of many in the developing world. It's a ubiquitous part of the international landscape and a near impossible one to forget.

But lurking beneath the surface, in some ways even more powerfully and certainly every bit as omnipresent, is migration. Since the late 1980s, the 'last great movement of humanity' has begun across the world, with hundreds of millions of people from every area on the planet making their way to new locations to work and grow and live. For many people, such as the Bangladeshi migrants having now made homes in Britain or North America, this has been a largely successful process, with increased incomes and longer life-spans in their new homes. But that is only one face of migration, and in many ways, not the dominant one.

The Filipino ship workers, spread across the oceans of the world, or the Nepali domestic workers in India, or the Bangladeshi oil-field hands in Saudi Arabia or the Emirates each have powerful and sometimes terrifying stories to share about the forces of migration and how its twists and turns have uplifted them and scarred them; sometimes at the same time. While current migration patterns might constitute the last great movement of humanity, it is clear that this process will be ongoing for quite some time to come. As the process continues, so, too must the advocacy, the education, and the empowerment of workers and migrants, to ensure that their struggles for betterment to do not leave them scarred and or outcast, as so many already have. On this count, WARBE will continue to stand active and advocate for the fair treatment of these people.

Dhaka, Day 3 - Challenges and Surprises (Jun. 7, 2012)

Writing to you from beautiful Dhaka, it's Day 3 of my Bengali internship and it seemed as good a time as any to check in.

It's a balmy 42 degrees here right now, and set to go as high as 50 tomorrow. Compared with my first two days here, where temperatures were more comfortably situated around 35-37, today feels particularly difficult. When even my Bengali compatriots are sweating and cursing, you know you've reached something unbearable. And yet life goes on. The horns of cars still sound every few seconds, a gentle, yet discordant soundtrack to office where I am presently working. 

Located on the top floor of a Major General's house in the New DOHS neighbourhood of Dhaka, which is an area originally built by the military that still houses many of their properties and the homes of officers and staff. Within the sprawls of Dhaka, it is one of the safest and most well-built areas. Many people have made their homes and offices here to capitalise on that fact. The other nice areas of the city, such as Gulshan and Banani, are also relatively clean and orderly, but are so because of their proximity to the foreign embassies and commercial interests. I have not yet had a chance to explore these areas, but I will live quite close to Banani and so plan to see as much of it as much as I can. 

Because I am currently staying with my boss, the Chairman of the WARBE Development Foundation, Syed Saiful Haque, I've not yet seen these areas, but his family has been wonderful and extremely welcoming. They have a lovely apartment located near the Universty of Dhaka (and apparently quite close to the Dhaka zoo), and I am staying in the flat of Saiful's mother which is on the bottom floor of that same building. Because I am not in the same apartment as them and do not yet have a phone, Saiful regularly sends down one of the apartment's attendants, Rassil, to fetch me for dinner or other things. He's a very sweet boy with a big smile and kind brown eyes, but knows no English and mumbles in unintelligable Bangla to me whenver he comes to get me. We've gotten quite good at miming to one another these past few days, and I hope that once I start Bangla lessons he and I will be able to communicate more. 

At the office, the people there have been so helpful and nice, but unfortunately very stressed due to a project proposal with the European Union that is due on June 10th. Saiful said that what is frustrating is that because of a poor internet connection, they cannot be certain that the proposal has been received until they get a message back saying so. Unfortunately, this can take more than a day, and because the deadline approaches so quickly (and since the Bengali weekend is Friday-Saturday) they are worried about it not being received on time or at all. Despite how welcoming they have been, they have told me repeatedly that they will have more time to help me once they finish submitting the project.

The sentiment has certainly been appreciated, but I'm not sure they understand how unnecessary it is. I'm still very much learning the ropes of the country and getting better acquainted with their organisation. I'm more than happy to sit back and watch how everything works than jump right in right away. I know that I that I will have a chance to show them what I can do afterwards. 

Part of the reason that I'm not tremendously eager to jump right into work is that I'm not yet sure what I want to do. WARBE is involved in so many amazing projects, from community consultation sessions where different stake-holders are asked to think and speak on issues related to migration, to the fourteen field-offices that they have throughout the country that help with training for migrants headed overseas. The organisation's main focus is to ensure that Bangladeshi migrants understand what their rights are when they go to other countries, so that they are not taken advantage of and can make the most of their time there.

I've become particularly interested in the remittance aspect of this, as a key concern of the foundation is that remittances are actually out towards social and capital investments back at home. The Bangladeshi government has been accused of not placing enough emphasis on where these remittances go once they enter the country and that they are simply happy to have foreign currency present and active. I was truly awed in reading and learning about the size and scope of these remittances in Bangladesh, which in 2010 totalled $10bn (USD). This money formed almost half of the foreign currency entering Bangladesh last year; and yet some people worry that it has been wasted on frivolous purchases, for example, on property that is not used while the migrants are away. 

But it should not be said that Bangladeshis are not an enterprising people. The number of times I've been asked about my property and businesses back home has really taken me aback. My sense is that, unlike many of us in the West, wealth is not necessarily measured in terms of the things that you have, but rather your capacity to support yourself and others. Saiful has mentioned to me the property that he and his siblings share back in his village in the Chittagong Division and how they have worked together to make it larger and more profitable for the family.

More than anything, I think this speaks to the communitarian values that are so powerful here. Family matters a great deal, and Bangladeshis will often refer to one through family titles such as 'dada,' an elder brother, or 'bon' a younger sister. For foreigners, understanding whether or not these are real relatives is not always easy. Saiful refered to me as his brother once we had met; this refers to a respect and a trust that he has in me, something I was surprised to have so recieved so early, but something I want to live up to as time goes on. But whatever your relation, real or imagined, you can tell immediately that this is a palce that lives and breathes on the basis of what the community is doing. Certainly this does not mean that everyone is always happy with what the group is doing, but that they are present and aware of its ever twitch and grunt.

Unfortuantely I must say the same is not yet true of me, but that I hope to become more attuned to the twists and turns of these fascinating people as time goes on. Dhaka and Bangladesh continue to thrill and excite me, even as my jet-lag wears on me and the temperature makes me sweat. I know that as time goes on, these issues will subside and that new challenges will arise.

Until then, I'll just be the obviously foreign person sweating in the corner.

Intern Blog One - Interview with Chandra Merry (May 14, 2012)

In my first podcast, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Chandra Merry, one of my fellow CAPI interns who is headed to the Philippines to work at the Centre for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) in Quezon City. 

We talk about what she expects to do once she arrives, the work that CMA does, and some of the challenges that she is expecting during her trip. 

This will be the first of many podcasts and blog posts so please keep checking back!

Listen to podcast (MP3).