The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) calls on the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to end tax breaks for Bangladeshi business and instead use the resources to invest in a brighter future for Bangladeshi workers. For more than five years, the USTR has been continuing to review whether Bangladesh business should benefit from tax breaks granted under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade program in what has been an unsuccessful effort to convince the Government of Bangladesh to end labor abuses in the garment industry and to hold its business community accountable for the abuses.
Unfortunately, failing to take action on the AFL-CIO’s long-standing petition to end GSP benefits, even in the face of phenomenal, unprecedented deaths of Bangladeshi garment workers, the US government has been sending the wrong signal to the Bangladeshi government and business community. Since the petition was filed in 2007, the Bangladeshi government has failed to take any serious action to ensure workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively or to hold accountable those responsible for the murder of Aminul Islam and the deaths of thousands of garment workers who have lost their lives in preventable fires and building collapses while producing goods for US consumers.
Instead of taking serious action to address the abuses in response to the US government review, the Bangladeshi government has denied the severity of the violations on record to the USTR and continued business as usual by supporting policies that deny workers their fundamental rights. At the same time, the Government of Bangladesh redoubled efforts to lobby key US government officials to minimize the issues and audaciously request even more tax breaks for its businesses.
In the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy which claimed the lives of more than 1,100 garment workers who had been denied their rights to refuse dangerous work and organize for safe and decent working conditions, the US government must change course by revoking the GSP tax breaks designed to reward the Bangladesh government and businesses for improving the lives of workers.
However, revoking tax breaks is not enough. The USTR should also encourage support for the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. By endorsing the Accord, and working with US companies to sign and implement its provisions, US trade officials will be making a significant contribution to the growth of a long-term and, most importantly, sustainable trading partnership with Bangladesh that will benefit both Bangladeshi workers and US consumers. More specifically, the Accord is an agreement between business and trade unions; thus support for the Accord is a clear way for the USTR to indicate its expectations that Bangladesh improve its laws and labor justice system to ensure workers’ ability to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively.
Whether or not Obama administration officials can ultimately convince more US companies to formally commit to investing in Bangladesh for the long-term, moving US companies away from low-road buying policies to join their European counterparts as market leaders, they should work with Congress to find ways to invest the savings accrued from ending the tax breaks to Bangladesh to support Bangladeshi workers. Those savings can provide financial support for the victims of the disasters at Tazreen Fashions and Rana Plaza and ensure the successful implementation of the Bangladesh Safety Accord.