The Obama administration outlined the next steps in what it said was a “longstanding effort to address in a meaningful way worker safety problems in Bangladesh,” and actions the country needs to take for its trade privileges to be restored.
The GSP action plan calls for:
• Increasing sanctions for labor violations sufficient to deter future misconduct,
• Publicly reporting on the outcome ofunion registration applications
• Establishing an effective complaint mechanism for labor violations
• Ending violence and harassment of labor activists and unions.
A joint statement from the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the Department of Labor and the State Department noted that the severity of Bangladesh’s factory safety problems were exemplified in the tragedies of the November 2012 Tazreen Fashions factory fire and the April 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse that combined to see more than 1,200workers perish, and “more broadly, the ability of Bangladeshi workers to exercise their full range of labor rights.”
On June 27, President Obama suspended Bangladesh’s trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences in view of “insufficient progress” by the government of Bangladesh in affording Bangladeshi workers internationally recognized worker rights At the time of the announcement, the administration provided Bangladesh with an action plan that it said could provide a basis for the President to consider the reinstatement of GSP trade benefits.
On Friday, the administration made the action plan public as a means to “reinforce and support the efforts of all international stakeholders to promote improved worker rights and worker safety in Bangladesh,” the agencies said. “On the basis of this action plan, the United States looks forward to continuing towork with Bangladesh on the actions it needs to take in relation to potential reinstatement of GSP benefits.”
The plan also addresses working conditions in Export Processing Zones that have had their own sets of labor problems. The plan calls for a timeline for “expeditiously bringing the EPZ law into conformity withinternational standards, so that workers within EPZ factories enjoy the same freedom of association and collective bargaining rights as other workers in the country.” It also calls for a creation of a government-working group and repeal or overhaul of the EPZ law, in coordination with the ILO.
The administration also said it was “pleased to associate itself with the…European Union-Bangladesh-International Labor Organization Sustainability Compact” aimed at improvements in labor rights and factory safety in the ready-made garment and knitwear industry in Bangladesh.”
“The United States looks forward to working as a full partner with the EU, Bangladesh and the ILO to implement the goals of the Compact, many of which are broadly consistent with the GSP action plan we are releasing today,” the federal departments said.
In addition to these complementary, government-to-government efforts, the agencies said the administration recognizes the importance of efforts by retailers and brands to ensure that the factories from which they source are compliant with all fire and safety standards in Bangladesh.
“We urge the retailers and brands to take steps needed to help advance changes in the Bangladeshi garment sector and to work together and with other stakeholders to ensure that their efforts are coordinated and sustained,” the agencies said. “The Administration looks forward to continuing its engagement with the Government of Bangladesh and all stakeholders in order to effect positive change for Bangladeshi workers and to help ensure that the recent tragedies we have witnessed do not recur.”