Two US congressmen have written a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressing dissatisfaction over Bangladesh's progress in a US-prescribed action plan for regaining GSP in the American market.
In the letter sent on Wednesday, on the eve of the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, they called for improving working conditions in factories.
The congressmen are Sander M Levin, ranking member of committee on ways and means, and George Miller, a senior democrat member of committee on education and the workforce.
“We believe it is critical for the government of Bangladesh to take stronger steps to fully implement the action plan that was issued as a roadmap for reinstating trade benefits, which were suspended in June 2013 under the Generalised System of Preferences programme,” the letter said.
The government has taken some steps but there has been insufficient progress in many areas, especially with regard to freedom of association, according to the letter. On registration of trade unions, they said registration of 141 trade unions over the last one year is a good job, but the US is "deeply concerned" about reports of harassment, mass firings, threats, and violence that the new union members have faced.
“We understand that, at factory after factory, union leaders are forced by managers to sign blank sheets of paper that are later used to show that the union leaders are resigning or oppose union registration,” the letter said.
If union leaders do not sign these blank sheets of paper, they are frequently threatened or beaten.
“The physical attacks against workers reported at the Chunji Knit and Taratex facilities are only two examples of the pattern and practice of garment factory owners using threats and violence.”
They urged the government to provide immediate and heightened attention to investigate these incidents and take necessary sanctions.
On the issue of labour law reforms, they said although the amendment to the law is praiseworthy, recent reports on labour issues in Bangladesh raised a number of concerns regarding implementation.
“The action plan requires Bangladesh to bring its EPZ laws into conformity with international standards,” the letter said.
The congressmen also criticised the database on garment factories that was launched on March 30. “This database, however, is far from the tool outlined in the action plan. The database does not contain factory inspection results or descriptions of labour complaints against particular factories.”
On the murder of labour leader Aminul Islam, they said the action plan requires the Bangladesh government to advance a transparent investigation into his murder.
“The in absentia trial of Mustafizur Rahman is not satisfactory. We urge the government to reopen the investigation and ensure that a transparent and independent investigator is appointed,” the letter said.
“We look forward to working with the government of Bangladesh to achieve full implementation of the action plan and continued and sustained progress with regard to workers' rights, as this will allow us to support the reinstatement of GSP benefits.”