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US calls for urgent compliance steps in RMG sector

Ignoring incidents like Ashulia fire may affect GSP privileges, says Mozena

Diplomatic Correspondent

US ambassador Dan Mozena on Wednesday suggested some urgent steps need to be taken for Bangladesh’s promising readymade garment industry, cautioning that return to ‘business as usual’ could seriously threaten the country’s RMG market in America and elsewhere.
The urgent steps he suggested include installation of adequate emergency stairwells, sprinkler systems with ample water supply, public address system so managers can direct workers to safe exits, emergency lighting systems so workers don’t become disoriented in a nighttime disaster, adequate fire extinguishers and training for all on how to use them and how to evacuate a factory safely in an emergency.
Speaking at American Apparel and Footwear Association and International Product Safety and Environmental Compliance Conference at Radisson Hotel, Mozena recalled the horror of fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City which had killed 146 people in 1911.
He said the 1911 fire had riveted America’s attention on the dismal working conditions of the garment industry and ‘that fire was our call to action.’
Echoing US labour secretary Hilda Solis’ remarks, Mozena said the tragedy of Ashulia is a call to action… real, tangible, concrete action that endeavours to make sure that there is never again another Ashulia tragedy in Bangladesh.
The ambassador said the key to ensuring workplace safety on a continuing basis is enabling workers to freely organise so they can speak with a strong voice as a partner with factory owners and managers and with the buyers in ensuring the safety of the workplace.
Mozena said the tragic Ashulia fire has a silver lining and it could herald a new era in Bangladesh of improved workplace safety, better working conditions, a stronger voice for labour, and stronger cooperation among owners, government and workers to ensure that Brand Bangladesh becomes a preferred brand sought by both buyers and consumers.
He said Bangladesh could be the world’s number one exporter of readymade garments, replacing China and be a huge player in the global market of leather and other footwear if the lessons learned from the Tazreen fire could be applied.
The ambassador said applying the lessons would also help address some of the concerns raised in the long-pending petition filed by the AFL-CIO to withdraw Bangladesh’s privileges under the Generalized System of Preferences.
He said the petition filed in 2007 cites deep concerns about workplace safety, the ability of workers to freely associate and organise, and the safety of those who seek to organise.
Mozena said three weeks ago, US government agencies concerned in Washington began a review of the petition, which will be addressed one way or another in coming weeks and months.
‘If there is no credible evidence of Bangladesh’s engaging to resolve these concerns, then the petition may well result in the suspension of some or all of Bangladesh’s GSP privileges, which would send a powerful, negative message to RMG and other buyers in America and around the world.’
He hoped that Bangladesh will engage seriously and constructively on the issues raised in the petition, showing progress on dealing with these concerns, so the petition can be resolved positively, without any loss of GSP privileges.
Referring to ILO Better Work programme, Mozena said the ILO is working with the government, owners and labour actors to help establish an enabling environment in which a Better Work programme can be launched. This includes amendments to the existing labour law and ensuring fair, transparent and timely registration of legitimate unions.

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