US sanctions Dhaka on worker safety

The United States withdrew key trade privileges from Bangladesh Thursday, citing dangerous conditions for workers in the wake of a factory building collapse that killed over 1,100 people.

  • Published: 28/06/2013 at 02:49 AM
  • Newspaper section: news

A Bangladeshi labourer who worked inside the collapsed building and was rescued looks on two months after the nine-storey building collapse.

An order by President Barack Obama removed Bangladesh's duty-free trade privileges under the "GSP" program, increasing pressure on Dhaka to boost workplace safety after a series of disasters in the country's huge garment industry.

"I have determined... that it is appropriate to suspend Bangladesh's designation as a GSP beneficiary developing country because it has not taken or is not taking steps to afford internationally recognized worker rights to workers in the country," Obama said in the order.

The move means importers of some Bangladesh products will now have to pay duties on them to bring them into the United States.

GSP, or Generalized System of Preferences, is a US program that eliminates duties on imports from 127 countries to aid their development.

But apparel, which amounted to more than 90 percent of the $4.9 billion in US imports from Bangladesh last year, is not covered under the program.

Even so, the US move aimed to add pressure on the Dhaka government and industry to clean up its factories.

The recent tragedies "have served to highlight some of the serious shortcomings in worker rights and workplace safety standards in Bangladesh," said US Trade Representative Michael Froman in a statement.

"Over the past few years, the US government has worked closely with the government of Bangladesh to encourage the reforms needed to meet those basic standards.

"Despite our close engagement and our clear, repeated expressions of concern, the US government has not seen sufficient progress towards those reforms."

The move came amid international shock and outrage over the April 24 collapse of the nine-story Rana Plaza outside Dhaka that housed factories making garments for export, including for major international brands like Italy's Benetton, Britain's Primark and Spain's Mango.

The collapse was by far the worst disaster ever in the global textiles industry, leaving 1,129 people dead and shocking many used to the repeated fires and other accidents in the $20 billion Bangladesh garment industry.

The industry comprises some 4,500 factories employing more than three million workers, 80 percent of them women.

Under pressure from consumers and labor groups, international clothing giants like Spain's Inditex and British retailer Marks & Spencer have agreed to join an industry safety accord, which calls for independent factory inspections in Bangladesh and the right for employees to refuse to work.

Major US retailers like Gap and Walmart have not joined, but are reportedly creating their own group to promote factory safety in Bangladesh.

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