WASHINGTON – The U.S. Trade Representative's Office on Friday outlined a series of steps that it urged Bangladesh to take to improve factory conditions and workers rights in order to have U.S. trade benefits restored.
President Barack Obama revoked longtime trade benefits for Bangladesh following a garment factory collapse in April and a factory fire in November that together killed more than 1,200 people.
The USTR plan urges Bangladesh to increase the number of labor, fire and building inspectors, improve their training and establish clear procedures for independent and credible inspections.
It also calls for increased fines and other sanctions, including loss of import and export licenses, for failure to comply with labor, fire, or building standards.
Bangladesh should enact and implement labor law reforms to address concerns related to freedom of association and collective bargaining, USTR said.
The U.S. trade office also endorsed a "compact" between the European Union, Bangladesh and the International Labor Organization to improve working conditions in the country.
"The United States looks forward to working as a full partner with the EU, Bangladesh, and the ILO to implement the goals of the Compact, many of which are broadly consistent with the GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) action plan we are releasing today," the USTR said.
It did not specifically mention a private sector plan to protect worker safety announced earlier this month by North American retailers, including Wal-Mart , Target and Gap . But it acknowledged "the importance of efforts by retailers and brands to ensure that the factories from which they source are compliant with all fire and safety standards in Bangladesh."
Some groups have criticized the North American retailers' plan as not being strong enough.
The United States privately gave Bangladesh its "action plan" last month.
"Today, the Administration is making this action plan public as a means to reinforce and support the efforts of all international stakeholders to promote improved worker rights and worker safety in Bangladesh," the trade office said.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Beech)