The Obama administration has publicly recommended measures for Bangladesh to have its trade privileges with the United States restored.
Three weeks after announcing an end to GSP for Bangladesh products, the administration released an “Action Plan,” which calls on Bangladesh to significantly increase the number of labour, fire and building inspectors and to improve their training.
The plan urges Bangladesh to impose stiffer penalties, including taking away export licenses, on garment factories that violate labour, fire or building safety standards.
In addition, the Obama administration wants Bangladesh to create a public database of all garment factories for reporting labour, fire and building inspections, including information on violations found, penalties assessed and violations corrected, with the names of the lead inspectors.
The administration suspended Bangladesh’s trade privileges after a furore caused by the Rana Plaza factory building collapse in April that killed 1,129 workers and the Tazreen factory fire in November that killed 112.
The action plan calls for establishing “an effective complaint mechanism, including a hot line” for workers to anonymously report fire, building and workers’ rights violations.
With regard to the garment industry, the Obama administration said Bangladesh should enact and carry out measures to address concerns that factories were suppressing workers’ rights to unionise and bargain collectively.
The administration urged Bangladesh to ensure that unions and their supporters do not face reprisals and to “expeditiously” grant recognition to unionisation efforts when enough worker signatures have been gathered to meet legal requirements.
Union leaders in Bangladesh say that after they gather the needed 30 percent of worker signatures at a company to qualify for union recognition, the country’s labour department gives those lists of names to factory owners, who then often proceed to fire union supporters or bully them into withdrawing their names from the list — so that there is no longer the 30 percent needed.
Labour leaders say that is a major reason so few of the nation’s 5,500 garment factories and four million garment workers are unionized.
On Monday, the Bangladesh government adopted a new labour law that it said would be critical in making it easier for workers to set up unions.
One provision bars government labour officials from giving that list of union supporters to factory owners. Nonetheless, Bangladeshi labour leaders pointed to several new provisions to assert that the law was in ways a step backward and made it harder to unionise.
The Obama administration called on Bangladesh to publicly report information on the status and outcomes of individual unionisation efforts and on whether the government had officially registered them, including the time taken to process unionisation applications and the basis for any denials.
It said Bangladesh should make sure that its export-processing zones allow full freedom to unionise.
The administration also said Bangladesh should proceed with a “transparent investigation” into last year’s killing of Aminul Islam, a prominent union organiser.
Bangladesh media have reported that government officials might have been involved in the cover-up.