Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed yesterday invited USTR chief Michael Froman to visit Bangladesh and witness first-hand the improvements the country has made over the last one year in workplace safety and labour standards.
“It was a welcoming gesture on our part,” Hedayetullah Al Mamoon, senior secretary to the commerce ministry, told The Daily Star.
“At the same time we also want to have the opportunity to show him the progresses made in safety standards and labour rights in the garment sector against the US-provided 16-point action plan.”
The move comes after Froman, as the head of the United States Trade Representative, Obama administration's chief trade negotiating body, early this month said the country needed to do more to win back trade benefits to the US.
“We are seeing some improvements that move us closer to our shared goal of protecting workers from another workplace tragedy such as the April 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, including a significant increase in the registration of unions.”
“However, we remain concerned about the large number of factories that have yet to be inspected, the lack of progress on needed labour law reforms, and continuing reports of harassment and violence against labour activists who are attempting to exercise their rights.”
The USTR review found that there has been progress in some areas such as the registration of approximately 120 new unions in the garment sector since June 2013.
The government has also dropped pending criminal charges against labour activists and is cooperating with the private sector initiatives, namely the Alliance and the Accord, on plans to inspect thousands of garment factories.
The country has suspended operations in about 20 factories found to be in imminent danger of structural failure or other catastrophic accident, the review added.
Meanwhile, the country will also invite the six Congressmen -- George Miller, Sander M Levin, Grace Meng, Eliot L Engel, Joseph Crowley and Janice D Schakowsky -- who on June 30 wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to express concern over labour rights and workplace safety.
“Their invitations are under process,” Mamoon said.
The commerce ministry will hold the next meeting of the committee comprising five foreign diplomats and three secretaries in the first week of next month, where the progresses under the action plan will be reviewed again, according to the senior secretary.
The committee comprises ambassadors from the US, the Netherlands, European Union and Germany and the British high commissioner, together with commerce, foreign and labour secretaries. The diplomats of other countries like Spain and Canada also take part in the meeting.