WASHINGTON — A group of House Democratic lawmakers said Friday that the government of Bangladesh has not taken “sufficient action” under a U.S. action plan to address worker safety problems.
In a statement marking the third anniversary of the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, which claimed the lives of 1,133 workers and injured more than 2,000, the lawmakers said there has been no “meaningful progress” to restore safety to workers in Bangladesh.
“We are deeply dissatisfied with the lack of meaningful progress to improve labor rights in Bangladesh in accordance with the GSP Action Plan,” the lawmakers said. The statement was signed by Reps. Sander Levin (D., Mich.), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D., Va.), Joe Crowley (D., N.Y.), Marcy Kaptur (D., Ohio), Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.), Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) and Jackie Speier (D., Calif.).
The U.S. suspended Bangladesh’s duty-free benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences in June 2013, citing pervasive garment factory safety problems, including the collapse of the Rana Plaza building complex in April and the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. fire in November 2012, which combined claimed the lives of more than 1,240 workers. It also cited the failure of industry and government to allow Bangladeshi workers to exercise their rights to organize and bargain collectively in the apparel sector.
Following the suspension of GSP benefits, the U.S. and Bangladesh signed the Bangladesh Action Plan in July 2013, under which President Obama could consider reinstatement of the GSP benefits. The suspension of GSP benefits remains in place after Bangladesh failed to meet several criteria in the action plan.
“The Bangladeshi labor code and export processing zone laws remain out of compliance with basic International Labor Organization standards, and the laws that are in place are not effectively enforced by the government of Bangladesh,” the lawmakers said. “Far too often, we read reports of workers being harassed or physically attacked because of their association with a union.”
In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy companies formed the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which is made up of 28 mainly U.S. firms including Wal-Mart, Target, Gap and VF Corp., and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, comprised of 200 overseas companies with two global unions, IndustriALL and UNI Global Union.
The Bangladesh government has also taken strides as part of a National Action Plan to make improvements.
The head of IndustriALL recently said real improvements on the ground have been made. A significant group of factories have been inspected by both the alliance and accord and are in the process of remediation, although experts acknowledge there have been delays in improving safety and working conditions in Bangladesh.
But the group of U.S. lawmakers said it won’t let up pressure on the government of Bangladesh.
“We remind the government of Bangladesh that three years after Rana Plaza, we remain focused on the safety and conditions of work for those who make the garments widely purchased in our nation,” they said. “It is time for the government of Bangladesh to take immediate action to implement the actions in the GSP Action Plan.”