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US Action Plan on Bangladesh’s GSP, and Bangladesh’s Perspective

The following article has been written by Leonie Barrie, managing editor of just-style.com. To read the article on its source website, please click here. 

Credit-bangladeshnewsnow.com
Source-www.bangladeshnewsnow.com

US: Action Plan Sets Out Bangladesh GSP Safety Steps 

The US government has set out a series of steps that Bangladesh needs to implement – including improved worker rights and worker safety in the country’s garment industry – if it wants trade preferences to be restored.

The “action plan” released on Friday (19 July) comes three weeks after the Obama administration decided to suspend Bangladesh’s tariff benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme over concerns about safety issues.

Among its recommendations are hiring more government labour, fire and building inspectors, and improve their training. It also wants to see increased fines and other sanctions, including loss of import and export licenses, applied to ready-made garment and knitwear factories that fail to comply.

The administration is also calling for a publicly accessible database of all RMG/knitwear factories as a platform for reporting labour, fire, and building inspections, including information on the factories and locations, violations identified, fines and sanctions administered, factories closed or relocated, violations remediated, and the names of the lead inspectors.

And it wants to see an effective complaint mechanism, including a hotline, set up for workers to confidentially and anonymously report their concerns.

Bangladesh is also being urged to enact and implement labour law reforms to address key concerns related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. And it must protect unions and their members from discrimination and reprisal.

The decision to suspend US trade preferences was taken after a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory killed 114 people in November last year, and the Rana Plaza building collapsed in April killing more than 1,100 garment workers.

The tariff preferences being cut largely cover imports of tobacco, sports equipment, porcelain and plastic products. They do not cover the country’s garment industry, which represents the lion’s share of trade with the US and are subject to import duties ranging between 15% and 32%.

According to Otexa figures, the US imported some US$4.63bn worth of apparel from Bangladesh in the year to May 2013, a rise of 3.1% on the year before and giving it a 5.9% share of the total apparel imported by the US over the period.

The US government has also emphasised the important role played by retailers and brands to ensure that the factories from which they source are compliant with all fire and safety standards in Bangladesh.

“We urge the retailers and brands to take steps needed to help advance changes in the Bangladeshi garment sector and to work together and with other stakeholders to ensure that their efforts are coordinated and sustained,” said a joint statement from the Department of State, the Department of Labor, and the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

North American brands and retailers earlier this month unveiled a new five-year plan to improve worker safetyat the factories in Bangladesh that produce their clothes.

The Bangladeshi government is also making changes to its labour laws in response to domestic and international pressure, although activists say the amendments still don’t do enough to protect worker’s rights or meet international standards

The US added that its action plan is “broadly consistent” with a new “global compact” – the Sustainability Compact for Continuous Improvements in Labour Rights and Factory Safety in the Ready-made Garment and Knitwear Industry in Bangladesh – set out on 8 July.

The US is also joining this group as a partner with the European Union (EU), Bangladesh, and the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Bangladesh Action Plan 2013

  • Develop, in consultation with the International Labor Organization (ILO), and implement in line with already agreed targets, a plan to increase the number of government labor, fire and building inspectors, improve their training, establish clear procedures for independent and credible inspections, and expand the resources at their disposal to conduct effective inspections in the readymade garment (RMG), knitwear, and shrimp sectors, including within Export Processing Zones (EPZs).
  • Increase fines and other sanctions, including loss of import and export licenses, applied for failure to comply with labour, fire, or building standards to levels sufficient to deter future violations.
  • Develop, in consultation with the ILO, and implement in line with already agreed targets, a plan to assess the structural building and fire safety of all active RMG/knitwear factories and initiate remedial actions, close or relocate inadequate factories, where appropriate.
  • Create a publicly accessible database/matrix of all RMG/knitwear factories as a platform for reporting labour, fire, and building inspections, including information on the factories and locations, violations identified, fines and sanctions administered, factories closed or relocated, violations remediated, and the names of the lead inspectors.
  • Establish directly or in consultation with civil society an effective complaint mechanism, including a hotline, for workers to confidentially and anonymously report fire, building safety, and worker rights violations.
  • Enact and implement, in consultation with the ILO, labour law reforms to address key concerns related to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
  • Continue to expeditiously register unions that present applications that meet administrative requirements, and ensure protection of unions and their members from anti-union discrimination and reprisal.
  • Publicly report information on the status and final outcomes of individual union registration applications, including the time taken to process the applications and the basis for denial if relevant, and information on collective bargaining agreements concluded.
  • Register non-governmental labour organisations that meet administrative requirements, including the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) and Social Activities for the Environment (SAFE). Drop or expeditiously resolve pending criminal charges against labour activists to ensure workers and their supporters do not face harassment or intimidation. Advance a transparent investigation into the murder of Aminul Islam and report on the findings of this investigation.
  • Publicly report on the database/matrix identified above on anti-union discrimination or other unfair labour practice complaints received and labour inspections completed, including information on factories and locations, status of investigations, violations identified, fines and sanctions levied, remediation of violations, and the names of the lead inspectors.
  • Develop and implement mechanisms, including a training programme for industrial police officers who oversee the RMG sector on workers’ freedom of association and assembly, in coordination with the ILO, to prevent harassment, intimidation and violence against labor activists and unions.
  • Repeal or commit to a timeline for expeditiously bringing the EPZ law into conformity with international standards so that workers within EPZ factories enjoy the same freedom of association and collective bargaining rights as other workers in the country. Create a government-working group and begin the repeal or overhaul of the EPZ law, in coordination with the ILO.
  • Issue regulations that, until the EPZ law has been repealed or overhauled, will ensure the protection of EPZ workers’ freedom of association, including by prohibiting “blacklisting” and other forms of exclusion from the zones for labour activities.
  • Issue regulations that, until the EPZ law is repealed or overhauled, will ensure transparency in the enforcement of the existing EPZ law and that require the same inspection standards and procedures as in the rest of the RMG sector.

 

The following article is reported from Bangladesh News Now. Click here to read the full article. 

Bangladesh Hopes US to Revive GSP 

Dhaka: Bangladesh hopes that the US administration will soon revive its GSP status and the buyers will continue their business with their long-trusted partners.

Affirming that it will remain engaged with all its trading partners to share ideas and collectively address factory safety issues, Bangladesh also hoped that the US-Bangladesh trade to grow further despite the suspension of GSP, a benefit a least developed country is supposed to receive in the developed countries as per the provisions of the World Trade Organization.

“The government of Bangladesh has come to know about the unfortunate development of GSP suspension in the USA. Indeed a section of people, inside both Bangladesh and the USA, had long been campaigning to this effect,” said a Foreign Ministry release on Friday.

It cannot be more shocking for the factory workers of Bangladesh that the decision to suspend GSP comes at a time when the government of Bangladesh has taken concrete and visible measures to improve factory safety and protect workers’ rights, the Foreign Ministry note said.

Amendments to the 2006 labour act, ILO-led government-employer-worker tripartite agreement to implement time-bound decisions, and formation of a ministerial committee to ensure compliance in garments factories should speak for the Bangladesh government’s seriousness in the matter.

It said Bangladesh is absolutely respectful of a trading partner’s choice of decisions, it expresses its deep concern that this harsh measure may bring in fresh obstacles to an otherwise flourishing bilateral trade.

“Bangladesh believes that its partnership with the USA is founded on certain core values such as democracy, human rights, the rule of law, women empowerment, freedom of expression and social justice.”

It said the resilient nature of the Bangladeshi people – as manifested in 1971 when they earned freedom in the face of ordeals at home and abroad – must help them improve the quality of life and earn respect as an enterprising nation.

Bangladesh enjoys an extensive partnership with the USA in multiple areas such as democratic institutions building, empowering grassroots people, protecting economically and socially vulnerable groups, countering terrorism, contribution to global peace, and most importantly, a lasting business-to-business connectivity, the release added.