Rep. Levin heading to Bangladesh to talk workers rights

He has supported the Obama administration's decision to suspend the South Asian nation's participation in the GSP, which allows about 5,000 products to enter the U.S. duty-free. 

The move was designed to ramp up pressure onto the impoverished country to make better progress on working conditions and other safety issues. 

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Levin and House Democratic leaders also have urged Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to join in a comprehensive, concrete and coordinated plan to ensure worker safety and their rights.

He also has pressed the White House — in a letter to the president with Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) — to convene representatives of the European and U.S. retailers, the Bangladeshi garment industry, garment workers, their unions and the government, the International Labor Organization, and non-governmental organizations to help develop a concrete plan to address the range of workers' issues.

When the suspension was announced in June, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said that it "underscores the overall commitment that trade policy is working for workers here and around the world."

He said U.S. officials are looking forward to working with the government of Bangladesh to raise standards and improve working conditions so that "they can rejoin GSP at the appropriate time."

Froman insisted that the time that while the suspension might appear symbolic — the GSP affects less than 1 percent of the exports from Bangladesh and does not apply to economically dominant clothing industry — that the policy may "have a greater impact than the numbers themselves suggest."

The decision was made after the review, which was started in 2007, showed that there has been a lack of sufficient progress toward an overhaul of the labor market. 

The administration has started up new discussions with the government of Bangladesh to meet those goals.  

Since 2005, more than 1,800 workers have died in Bangladesh garment industry incidents, including the most recent collapse of the Rana factory that killed more than 1,110. 

Bangladesh's government says it is taking steps to improve worker safety after the April 24 collapse in Dhaka.

The GSP program expired at the end of July.

House and Senate lawmakers have introduced legislation to renew the program that benefits 127 developing countries that are eligible to export up to 5,000 types of products duty free to the United States.  

Last year, the total value of imports that came into the U.S. was $19.9 billion, including $34.7 million from Bangladesh, which included tobacco, sports equipment, porcelain china and plastic products.