Twelve US Congressmen, including Bangladesh Caucus founder and Chairman Joseph Crowley, expressed concern over diminishing labour rights in Bangladesh following death of 111 workers of the Tazreen Fashions Limited in one of the worst factory fires in recent times.
They also urged US Trade Representative Ron Kirk to complete the compliance evaluation of the readymade garment factories in Bangladesh under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).
Kirk, a member in US President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, also serves as Obama’s Principal Trade Advisor, negotiator, and spokesperson on trade issues. The Congressmen in a letter informed Ambassador Ron Kirk about their concern.
The Congressmen in the letter said they were deeply concerned as the work environment and the rights of workers had diminished. Death of over a hundred workers in the horrible fire proved that.
They said there had been no progress towards improving the work environment and labour rights in the factories of Bangladesh. “On the contrary, the situation seems to be worsening.”
The letter also mentioned several reasons responsible for the deteriorating labour rights in the readymade garments sector.
Those include – unresolved mystery behind labour leader Aminul Islam’s murder, ongoing filing of criminal cases against labour leaders, lack of necessary fire fighting equipment in the factories and other safety-related issues, and encouraging workers to form a trade union, among others.
According the US law, developing countries receive a special preferential treatment on tariff in exporting goods to the US. But the countries could lose the facility if measures are not put in place for preserving the labour rights.
The US Trade Representative has been evaluating the record of labour rights in Bangladesh over the recent past. The Congressmen are now asking him to complete the evaluation process.
The Congressmen who signed the letter to Ron Kirk are – Joseph Crowley, Sander Levin, Jim McDermott, Bill Pascrell, Charles Rangel, Pete Stark, John Lewis, Richard Neal, Ron Kind, Chris Van Hollen, Jim Moran and Congresswoman Betty McCollum. All of them are Democrats.
At least 111 workers of Tazreen Fashions Ltd, a garment factory of Tuba Group, were killed in the Nov 24 fire at the unit located in Ashulia, on the outskirts of capital Dhaka.
US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan W Mozena also enquired about the garment factory having no trade union after the incident. He warned that the buyers of his country could turn away from Bangladesh’s readymade garment industry.
Responding to his remarks, LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam on Dec 12 had said that Mozena should introduce a full-fledged trade union first in his own country before advising Bangladesh about it.
The Tazreen fire tragedy has woken up various quarters including labour and human rights organisations over the degrading working environment in the readymade garment factories in Bangladesh as the accident also exposed the shadowy supply chains of big brands like global retailing giant Wal-Mart, Sears Holdings Inc and Walt Disney Co.