Report: Bangladesh has more work ahead before duty-free trade benefits are restored

The Obama administration said Wednesday that while Bangladesh has made some progress on improving workers rights and safety conditions, it must do more to restore suspended trade benefits.

Led by the U.S. Trade Representative's office, a six-month interagency review concluded that more work needs to be done on worker rights and safety issues.

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The administration remains concerned about the lack of inspections across a large number of factories, the slow progress on labor law reforms and the continued reports of harassment of and violence against labor activists.

“We are seeing some improvements that move us closer to our shared goal of protecting workers from another workplace tragedy such as the April 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, including a significant increase in the registration of unions,” said U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanWhite House developing legislative strategy to pass Pacific trade deal Overnight Finance: Path clears for Puerto Rico bill | GOP senator casts doubt on IRS impeachment | Senate approves .1B for Zika Footwear executives pound pavement for Obama trade deal MORE.

A year ago, President Obama suspended the country’s Generalized System of Preferences trade benefits, which allows certain products to come into the United States duty-free. In 2012, the total value of U.S. imports from Bangladesh under the system was $34.7 million.

At the time of the suspension, the administration provided Bangladesh with an action plan to make improvements.

The review found that there has been progress in some areas including an increase in labor union registrations in the garment sector and a suspension of operations in approximately 20 factories found to be in imminent danger of structural failure or other catastrophic accident.  

But the government remains behind schedule in carrying out hundreds of critical safety inspections in garment factories, as well as meeting its commitments to hire additional inspectors.  

The government has also been slow to respond to continuing reports of harassment and violence against labor activists.

“Bangladesh has made some progress, but much work is left to be done to implement the Action Plan,” said House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) and House Education and the Workforce Committee senior Democrat Rep. George Miller (Calif.).

“We need to continue to ensure that workers in Bangladesh are assured basic safety and internationally recognized rights in the workplace," they said.

"We look forward to working with the administration and the Bangladeshi government to continue to make progress in this regard.”