WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs said Thursday it is providing a $2.5 million competitive grant to fund fire and building safety improvements in Bangladesh’s garment industry, in the wake of two tragedies that have claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people.

The agency’s funding of technical assistance comes as international pressure intensifies to make serious reforms in fire and building safety codes in Bangladesh, following the Rana Plaza building collapse in April that killed 1,129 people and the Tazreen Fashions fire in November in which 112 workers perished.

The tragedies have galvanized unions and labor and human rights groups into pressuring retailers and brands to take a more active role in funding fire training and building repairs, increasing independent inspections and giving workers a stronger voice in their workplace safety.

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The U.S. and European Union have also said they are reviewing whether to suspend or withdraw Bangladesh’s duty-free trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences.

“In recent months, the government of Bangladesh, industry, worker and civil society organizations and other groups have engaged in stepped-up efforts to address fire and building safety concerns,” the Labor Department said. “The government and other stakeholders, however, have a great deal of additional work to do in order to implement existing and developing plans.”


The DOL said it will fund one or more recipients who will focus on strengthening the Bangladeshi governments’ ability to improve its enforcement of fire and building safety standards and help build the capacity of worker organizations to effectively monitor violations of the standards and curtail other hazards in the garment sector. Grant applicants have until Aug. 2 to apply.

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