WASHINGTON – Nine U.S. senators on Tuesday urged President Barack Obama to suspend trade benefits for Bangladesh until the country where 1,129 people died in an April garment factory collapse improved its working conditions.
“We urge that the administration suspend Bangladesh’s eligibility for GSP (Generalized System of Preferences), and establish a roadmap and timeline for reinstatement based upon tangible improvements in worker safety and related labor law reforms,” the group of Democratic senators said.
Obama is expected to decide by the end of June whether to suspend Bangladesh from the GSP program, which waives U.S. import duties on thousands of goods from poor countries to spur economic development.
Suspending Bangladesh from the program would be mostly symbolic since the Asian nation’s main export, clothing, is not eligible for GSP tariff cuts, in deference to the U.S. textile and apparel industry.
But it would be another blow to the country’s reputation in the wake of the collapse in April of the Rana Plaza commercial building, which housed a number of garment factories, and the Tazreen factory fire in November that killed 112 people.
Last year, the GSP program spared Bangladesh about $2 million in duties on $35 million worth of tents, golf equipment, plates and other items it exported to the United States, said Ed Gresser, a trade analyst with the GlobalWorks Foundation.
Bangladesh paid $732 million in duties on $4.9 billion worth of clothing exports to the United States, he said.
The AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor organization, first filed a petition to suspend Bangladesh from the GSP in 2007.
The U.S. government has put off that decision for six years, hoping the threat would be enough to encourage Bangladesh to make labor reforms.
U.S. trade officials emphasized that suspending trade benefits was seen as “the last resort” while expressing frustration that Bangladesh had made little progress addressing longstanding U.S. concerns over its labor conditions.
“President Obama must do everything in his power to prevent tragedies like the Bangladesh factory collapse from happening again,” Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat said in a statement with the other senators.
Earlier this month, an AFL-CIO official said she expected Obama would decide to suspend the benefits.
(Source: Reuters via Yahoo News. Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Bill Trott and Paul Simao) Meanwhile, CNSNews.com adds: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs has announced it will award a grant of up to $2.5 million to improve fire and general building in Bangladesh.
The grant announcement noted that the United States imports billions of dollars worth of goods from Bangladesh each year ($4.9 billion in 2011) with the “vast majority” coming from the “ready-made garment sector.”
It also noted the unsafe working conditions that plague that industry.
“Reports have shown that sub-standard buildings, poor emergency procedures, blocked fire exits, overcrowded workplaces, and inadequate inspection practices have resulted in a high death toll,” the announcement said.
The grant cited the April 2013 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 people as well as a fire in November 2012 that killed at least 112 workers.
In November 2012, a fire at the Tazreen Factory killed at least 112 workers, drawing attention to extensive building code and broader health and safety violations throughout the RMG sector.
The grant will be used to “fund a technical assistance project(s) in Bangladesh to (1) improve government enforcement of fire and general building safety standards, and (2) increase worker organizations’ ability to effectively monitor for violations of fire and general building safety standards and seek abatement of such hazards.”
The Labor Department “intends to allocate approximately $1.5 million toward the achievement of Objective 1 and approximately $1,000,000 toward the achievement of Objective 2,” the grant abstract said.
CNSNews.com submitted questions via email to DOL about the grant.
Gloria Della, director of public affairs for DOL, initially said that she would respond to questions by email, but failed to do so, even after repeated attempts to get answers.
CNSNews.com asked whether the grant was a wise use of taxpayer funding and whether or not the project will benefit Americans in any way.
CNSNews.com also asked for more details about how the project would be implemented and how the agency would track its success.
ILAB’s stated that its mission is “to use all available international channels to improve working conditions, raise living standards, protect workers’ ability to exercise their rights, and address the workplace exploitation of children and other vulnerable populations.”
“Any commercial, international, educational, or non-profit organization(s), including any faith-based, community-based, or public international organization(s) (PIOs), capable of fulfilling the objectives identified in the Funding Opportunity Description is eligible to apply,” the announcement stated. “Organizations applying for this award must demonstrate a proven ability to manage complex projects in developing countries through actions that support these aims.”
The grant announcement was posted June 13 and is open to applicants until Aug. 2. The Labor Department anticipates one or more grant recipients. The funding period is expected to run through four years from the date the grant is awarded.