In a review, the trade body acknowledged that it has made some “important progress” in ensuring readymade garments (RMG) workers’ rights and safety.
It says it “remains concerned” that a large number of factories remain to be inspected and over the lack of progress on labour law reforms.
The Obama administration suspended Bangladesh’s trade privileges under GSP in June last year after the death of over 1,100 workers in a workplace collapse tragedy.
The Apr 24 Rana Plaza accident shed light on poor workplace condition and shoddy safety measures in Bangladesh’s $20 billion export-oriented RMG sector — the second largest after China.
At the time of the suspension, the US provided Bangladesh with an Action Plan that listed conditions to be fulfilled for reinstatement of GSP trade benefits.
The US said the suspension was to push Bangladesh to improve safety measures and workplace condition although RMG products did not enjoy duty-free access.
In 2012, the total value of US imports from Bangladesh under GSP was $34.7 million of goods including tobacco, sports equipment, porcelain china, and plastic products.
“We are seeing some improvements that move us closer to our shared goal of protecting workers from another workplace tragedy such as the April 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, including a significant increase in the registration of unions,” US Trade Representative Michael Froman said.
In its review of Bangladesh’s progress in implementing the specific measures listed in the Action Plan, the USTR says it found “progress in some areas”.
The review comes as the Congress is considering legalisation to renew GSP programme as legal authorisation for duty-free treatment for all countries in the US expired on July 31, 2013.
GSP provides import tariff breaks designed to help developing countries grow through trade.
They include registering approximately 120 new unions since June 2013, dropping pending criminal charges against labour activists, cooperating with private sector initiatives — the “Alliance” and the “Accord” — on plans to inspect the thousands of RMG factories, and suspending operations in around 20 factories found to be in imminent danger of structural failure or other catastrophic accident.
The progress made is insufficient though.
Bangladesh is yet to implement substantial parts of the Action Plan, the USTR says as it is behind schedule in carrying out hundreds of critical safety inspections and meeting its commitments to hire additional inspectors.
The USTR claims the government has been slow to respond to continuing reports of harassment and violence against labour activists.
Since GSP suspension, , it observes, the government has not advanced the labour law reforms as called for in the Action Plan to ensure workers are afforded the same rights and protections in EPZs as in the rest of the country.
The review concludes that Bangladesh needs to develop a “credible and effective mechanism” for responding to and addressing allegations of unfair labour practices.
The US says apart from engaging regularly with Bangladesh, it is closely coordinating with the EU, the ILO and other international partners under the July 2013 Sustainability Compact on worker rights and factory safety in Bangladesh.
Ahead of the Compact’s first anniversary, the US notes Bangladesh’s progress towards fulfilment of some of the commitments in the agreement
It has welcomed continued positive collaboration between all signatories in support of Bangladesh’s adoption of international standards in worker rights and safety.