US suggests action plan
The US government has recommended a set of action plans to Bangladesh to reclaim the GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) privileges that the Obama Administration suspended on Thursday over poor labour rights and safety issues.
One suggestion is to implement the commitments Bangladesh made under the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire and Structural Integrity.
The recommendations were made in a letter to Bangladesh's Ambassador to the US, Akramul Qader, who on June 26 forwarded it to the foreign affairs ministry.
The Daily Star has obtained a copy of the letter.
The USA urged the government to achieve the targets negotiated at the hearings at the US Trade Representative (USTR) office since 2007 on a petition asking for the withdrawal of GSP privileges for Bangladeshi products.
Commerce Minister GM Quader said the ministry had already begun assessing the advancements in fire safety, labour rights and working conditions.
"I will send a note on the achievements in those areas to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina very soon."
Quader said he, if asked, would also submit a report to the cabinet for discussion and that the commerce ministry would send it to the USTR if it got approved by the cabinet.
According to the proclamation of the GSP suspension, the USA will reconsider its decision after six months.
"We will work in such a way so that GSP facilities are reinstated" following a review of the labour situation in Bangladesh after six months, the minister said.
In the action plans, the US government suggested increasing the number of government labour, fire and building inspectors, improving their skill and establishing clear procedures for independent and credible inspections in the garment and shrimp sectors, including the industrial units at Export Processing Zones (EPZs).
Bangladesh should increase fines and impose strict sanctions like the cancellation of import and export licences for non-compliance with labour, fire, or building standards, the letter says.
The US government suggested creating a publicly accessible database or matrix of all garment factories, in which all information relating to labour, fire and building inspections would be available. The information must include locations of the factories, violations identified, fines and sanctions imposed, factories closed or relocated and the names of the lead inspectors.
Establishment of an effective mechanism, including a hotline, in consultation with civil society, is also recommended so that workers can report on violations of fire and building safety and labour rights confidentially.
The action plans also call for passing of the proposed amendments to the Labour Law 2006 and their implementation in consultation with the ILO. The USA says the amendments are needed for addressing key concerns over freedom of association, collective bargaining and continuation of registration of trade unions in the garment sector.
Besides, Bangladesh is advised to make public the status and final outcomes of union registration applications of individual garment units.
It should allow registration of non-government labour organisations that meet administrative criteria, including the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity and Social Activities for the Environmental, according to the letter.
"Drop or expeditiously resolve pending criminal charges against labour activists to ensure that workers and their supporters do not face harassment or intimidation," the US said in the letter.
"Advance a transparent investigation into the murder of [labour leader] Aminul Islam and report on the findings," it added.
The suggestions also include introducing international standard trade unions at the factories inside the EPZs and a prohibition of “blacklisting” and other forms of exclusion from the zones for labour activities.
Regarding the shrimp sector, the US asked the government to comply with rules set by the International Labour Organisation and other worker-employer initiatives, such as the March 2013 Memorandum of Agreement, to ensure the strengthening of freedom of association and to address anti-union discrimination and unfair labour practices.