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Obama administration must pressure Bangladeshi government to enact stronger worker protections immediately

As some retailers in the U.S. are calling for better working conditions in Bangladesh garment factories (and others opting out of aligned factory safety plans), government officials in the U.S. and Bangladesh alike are weighing their options.

Officials in the Bangladeshi Parliament have stated that they will work to improve safety in the country’s garment factories. But as U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) noted today on a telephone press conference, so far, no concrete actions have been taken to step up safety procedures. Instead, we have heard only lofty statements.

Rep. Miller has just returned from a trip to Bangladesh in the wake of the garment factory collapse at Rana Plaza and another factory fire nearby. He met with government officials, manufacturers, and victims hospitalized after these disasters. He spoke with women who had jumped out of third- and fourth-story windows, in some cases, to escape the fire. He described their shattered bodies- because of their many broken bones- and shattered lives- because of their loss of income and financial support for their families.

Rep. Miller called on the Obama administration to take a strong stance in calling for better safety protections for garment workers in Bangladesh, but admitted that he is not confident the administration will do so.  

“I would hope the administration would recognize that this is an issue of international human rights,” Rep. Miller said on the call.

National COSH agrees with Rep. Miller that the Obama administration must pressure the Bangladeshi government to protect workers’ rights.

But there has been an internal fight within the administration about how best to respond to the tragedies that have devastated the country and its garment industry.  

Rep. Miller advocated using trade agreements as a way to hold Bangladesh responsible for its workers’ safety. He said that unless Bangladesh manufacturers meet some stringent benchmarks quickly, the U.S. should reject Bangladesh’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) petition, a World Trade Organization program that gives the country breaks on U.S. tariffs.

But however the Obama administration chooses to respond to the tragedies in Bangladesh’s garment industry, it must pressure the country to immediately enact stronger protections for workers’ rights, health and safety. If the administration doesn” t, we will be forced to respond to the next inevitable garment factory disaster.