Trade benefits for Bangladesh will not be restored until the country does more to ensure worker safety and rights, the U.S. government has formally announced. The U.S. originally revoked the country’s trade benefits in June of 2013 after over 1,100 factory workers died in a garment factory collapse in Bangladesh’s capital city.
A review issued by the Office of the United States Trade Representative found that over 2,000 safety inspections of Bangladesh apparel factories have been conducted by private initiatives at the behest of North American and European brands and retailers. Those inspections resulted in the closure or partial closure of 48 factories with hundreds more needing “remedial measures.” Yet the U.S. says that several hundred factory inspections by the Bangladeshi government still must take place.
“We urge the government to complete remaining factory inspections as soon as possible to prevent recurrence of workplace tragedies such as those that occurred in 2012 and 2013,” said United States Trade Representative Michael Froman.
The report acknowledges that progress has been made in many areas, particularly fire and building safety within the factories. However, Froman said the Bangladeshi government must “accelerate its efforts to ensure workers’ rights and to take measures to address continuing reports of harassment of and violence against labor activists who are attempting to exercise their rights.”
When President Obama suspended Bangladesh’s trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences program, $35 million in exports to the U.S. were affected. That measure, though, was limited, in that it did not impact exports from Bangladesh’s substantial garment segment. Bangladesh’s apparel industry generates over $20 billion per year and grew 14% in the fiscal year from June 2013 to May 2014.