Senator Menendez, Factory Owner Weighs In on Labor Concerns in Bangladesh

Thursday, July 11, 2013

(Getty)

In an effort to improve safety conditions in Bangladesh, a number of American retailers have agreed to an initiative to inspect the factories that they use in the country within the next 12 months and they have committed funds for worker safety.

The American plan, known as the the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, has been criticized by several labor rights groups, because it is not legally binding and does not obligate the companies to pay for any improvement costs. Some labor groups consider the proposal weak in comparison to the legally binding agreement backed by a coalition of mostly European retailers: The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

The efforts by western retailers to improve conditions for workers in Bangladesh follows what is considered the worst disaster in the apparel industry: the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory outside Dhaka in April that killed 1,129 people.

U.S. Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, has been calling for better labor conditions and safety standards for workers in Bangladesh, which is now the second-largest garment exporter, after China.

Last month Menendez presided over a hearing focused on safety and labor concerns in Bangladesh and he was a leading force behind suspending trade benefits with Bangladesh because of worries about unsafe working conditions and workers’ rights. Senator Mendez joins The Takeaway to take us through the plan and how it might impact the garment industry at home and abroad.

Factory Industry Responds

Though New Jersey Senator Menendez is making the case for new measures by American companies, not all are on board with the measure.

Others say that revoking Bangladesh's most favored trade status, and layering on new more restrictions, risks doing more harm to the country and its factory workers than good.

Joining The Takeaway is Safina Rahman, the director of Lakhsma Sweaters, an apparel production factory in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.

She tells us about the role the garment industry plays in Bangladesh's economy, which is estimated to employ 5 million workers across the country. She sheds light on how the European Union's response been different from America's, and the potential consequences of the U.S. revoking Bangladesh's trade privileges—both in the short term and the long term.

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Guests:

Senator Robert Menendez and Safina Rahman

Hosted by:

Todd Zwillich

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja, Tekendra Parmar and Elizabeth Ross

Editors:

T.J. Raphael

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