Bangladesh has made some important progress, but must do more to address the worker rights and worker safety issues that led American President Barack Obama to suspend trade benefits, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) said yesterday after an interagency review.
At the time of the suspension, the US provided the Bangladesh government with an action plan that provides a basis for Obama to consider the reinstatement of Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) scrapped in June last year.
“The Obama administration has been engaging the Bangladesh government and stakeholders over the past year to press for changes to address the worker rights and worker safety issues,” US Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement.
“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 of and violence against labour activists who are attempting to exercise their rights,” Froman said.
The review found that there has been progress in some areas. For example, since June 2013, Bangladesh has registered approximately 120 new unions in the garment sector.
The government has also dropped pending criminal charges against labour activists and is cooperating with the private sector initiatives, the Alliance and the Accord, on plans to inspect the thousands of garment factories, according to the USTR.
Bangladesh has reportedly suspended operations in about 20 factories found to be in imminent danger of structural failure or other catastrophic accident, the USTR added.
However, the Bangladesh government is behind schedule in carrying out many hundreds of critical safety inspections in garment factories, as well as meeting its commitments to hire additional inspectors, the USTR said.
“The government has also been slow to respond to continuing reports of harassment and violence against labour activists.”
The review concluded that the government must develop a credible and effective mechanism for responding to and addressing allegations of unfair labour practices. Since the suspension of GSP, the government has also not advanced the labour law reforms, including changes to ensure that workers get the same rights and protections in export processing zones as in the rest of the country, the USTR said.
Obama's June 2013 decision to suspend Bangladesh's trade benefits under the GSP programme means that US imports of GSP-eligible products from Bangladesh are no longer eligible for duty-free treatment.
In 2012, the total value of Bangladesh's exports to the US markets under GSP was $34.7 million. The top GSP imports from Bangladesh included tobacco, sports equipment, porcelain china and plastic products.
Legal authorisation for duty-free treatment for all countries under GSP expired on July 31, 2013. The US Congress is considering legislation to renew the programme.