Strip Bangladesh of GSP
US Senator Robert Menendez yesterday asked the Obama administration to seriously consider suspending Bangladesh's duty-free privileges unless it took significant action to improve workers' rights.
He said the suspension of Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) would send a strong signal that the United States was serious about protecting workers and improving workplace safety.
Menendez, also the chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was addressing a hearing in Washington on labour rights in Bangladesh.
He had called a hearing on the issue weeks after the Rana Plaza building near Dhaka had collapsed on April 24 killing 1,131 people.
“We have been saber-rattling, but that hasn't produced the results that we want to see,” Menendez said, adding, "How many more people have to die before we decide that is not something we can morally sustain?"
Highlighting his commitment to the issue, Menendez pointed out that this was the first hearing on labour rights since Congress debated China's entry into the World Trade Organisation 12 years ago.
Menendez said the United States valued its relationship with Bangladesh, a trade partner with annual flows topping $6 billion and supporting 10,000 American jobs.
"As the world's seventh most populous country, Bangladesh has made dramatic strides on everything from global food security to gender equality to maternal and child health," he said, adding that Bangladesh is a poor, developing country with lots of economic challenges. What set it apart from other countries was the sheer size of industry and rate of growth."
The US government officials at the hearing said Bangladesh had made some efforts, notably with last month's adoption of legislation expanding benefits for garment workers and making it easier to start trade unions. But they said Bangladesh did not go far enough.
“US officials have been explicit with the government of Bangladesh concerning specific actions it should take to provide greater freedom of association and to ensure that workers have safe factories,” said Assistant US Trade Representative for Labour Lewis Karesh, who was present in the hearing.
He said, “Despite our many efforts with Bangladesh, beginning in late 2012, we grew increasingly concerned that the worker-rights situation was in fact deteriorating.”
The Office of the US Trade Representative was considering “possible withdrawal, suspension or limitation of Bangladesh's trade benefits” under the GSP, said Lewis, adding that the Obama administration would announce next steps in its GSP review by the end of the month.
Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake said the US hoped Bangladesh's parliament would amend its labour laws to address worker safety and freedom of assembly before the end of the month.