The Obama administration announced Thursday it is suspending trade privileges for Bangladesh because of that country's poor record of safety and protection of workers' rights in the garment industry. After a recent building collapse killed more than 1,100 workers and a fire in a separate factory led to another 112 deaths, the administration was under pressure to take action. The suspension means Bangladesh no longer will be able to avoid paying duties on more than 5,000 products the country exports to the United States.
In response to the announcement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka applauded the suspension:
The AFL-CIO welcomes news that the U.S. government will suspend Bangladesh’s trade benefits granted under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Bangladesh’s egregious labor practices have been under review for more than six years now, and the Bangladesh government has repeatedly failed to comply with the minimum GSP requirements to afford internationally recognized labor rights to its workers.
The decision to suspend trade benefits sends an important message to our trading partners: Countries that benefit from preferential trade programs must comply with their terms. Countries that tolerate dangerous—and even deadly—working conditions and deny basic workers’ rights, especially the right to freedom of association, will risk losing preferential access to the U.S. market. [...]
The suspension of GSP benefits, together with the binding commitment made by more than 60 brands to improve fire and building safety in factories, are important steps to improving dangerous working conditions. The global workplace cannot be a deathtrap for poor workers producing products for the global economy.
The AFL-CIO's Celeste Drake testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the need to suspend trade privileges with Bangladesh:
Given that about 60% of Bangladesh’s factories are at risk of collapse, and that two of the four worst factory disasters in the history of the garment industry happened in Bangladesh in the last seven months, it is time for those profiting most from the system to help reform it.