Thursday, June 27, 2013

Obama to suspend Bangladesh trade privileges. Now let's fix the real problem.

Reports have been flying around today that the Obama administration would suspend Bangladesh’s trade privileges in response to continued concerns over worker safety, yielding to pressure from labor and Democrats in Congress.

Bangladesh has come under fire after 1,129 workers lost their lives when a factory collapsed this past April, capturing the world’s attention and calling into question the country’s commitment to improving working conditions and workers’ rights. The country’s track record is horrible, with many labor and human rights advocates questioning the Bangladesh’s Ministry of Labour’s Inspection Department’s competency.

The International Labor Rights Forum has taken action by drafting its “Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh” which calls on clothing manufacturers to take responsibility for the conditions at the factories where their products are produced. More than 40 apparel and retail companies have signed the agreement that requires companies to participate in and fund a program of independent safety inspections, remediation, and worker safety trainings with the involvement of trade unions.

However, this is not a problem unique to Bangladesh, nor can we depend on the industry to fix the problem. The garment industry as a whole is viewed as being reluctant to take an active role in promoting worker safety and rights at facilities in countries that have weak or nonexistent labor laws.

The only way to ensure that workers’ rights are protected is to change the way the U.S. drafts it trade agreements, building in human and worker’s rights provisions that must be followed by the trade partners. Until the U.S. holds its trade partners responsible for improving working conditions in poor, developing nations, we will continue to see tragedies like April’s horrific accident occur. Workers will continue to toil away for low pay in unsafe conditions with no recourse.