US Senator Robert Menendez has urged BGMEA to take immediate and substantial steps to end the harassment and intimidation of trade union organisers and members by the garment factory owners.
“I cannot support the renewal or expansion of Bangladesh’s GSP (generalised system of preferences) benefits as long as union organisers and members are subject to harassment, intimidation, and violence from BGMEA factory owners and managers,” the senator said in a letter sent to BGMEA President M Atiqul Islam yesterday.
Menendez, in the letter, also urged the president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) to exercise his leadership to end the grave injustice and protect workers’ rights and safety.
Menendez, chairmen of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and a member of the Senate Committee on Finance, held a hearing on workers’ rights in Bangladesh in February and released a report on the topic last November.
“Last year, at our first hearing on this topic, I urged the United States Trade Representative to suspend GSP benefits to Bangladesh because of the dire state of workers’ rights and safety,” the US senator said.
The GSP benefits were suspended shortly after the hearing, and an action plan was created that laid out several requirements for the renewal, he added.
The action plan requires the “protection of unions and their members from anti-union discrimination and reprisal.”
Appreciating BGMEA’s several initiatives taken to fulfill the requirement of the action plan, the senator said, “But more can and should be done.”
In the written testimony submitted by the BGMEA to the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for its second hearing on workers’ rights in Bangladesh, the business leader said his association will form a new department to deal with workers’ rights, recruit a labour consultant, and prepare a plan to educate factory owners and workers on the labour law.
The senator said union organisers and leaders in BGMEA factories are still subject to intimidation and termination.
Just last month, four union organisers, including two women, were reportedly severely injured by two dozen attackers as they tried to organise workers in a large garment factory, he mentioned adding that two of the organisers were hospitalised for several days.
“Incidents like these are completely unacceptable and the BGMEA is obligated to play a stronger role in preventing them,” the US senator said.