Congress Calls For Labor Reform
By MEGAN MONTALVO
In light of the Bangladesh factory fire that killed more than 100 workers last month, four members of Congress are urging the U.S. Trade Representative to complete a review of Bangladesh’s labor record.
On Dec. 20, U.S. Reps. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), Sander Levin (D-MI), Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), along with other members from the Ways and Means Committee and the House Bangladesh Caucus, announced they had issued a letter to Ambassador Ron Kirk, expressing concern over the deteriorating labor rights situation in Bangladesh.
“We are seriously concerned about the deterioration of working conditions and worker rights in Bangladesh,” the letter read. “The latest apparel industry fire, with over 100 workers killed, in the Tazreen garment factory is the latest in a series of events and practices constituting this decline.”
While the contents of the letter cite several specific issues constituting the decline in labor rights, ongoing criminal charges against labor leaders and refusal to register labor unions as official organizations, one specific unsolved mystery it highlighted was the murder of the prominent labor organizer Aminul Islam, who was found tortured and killed earlier this year in Bangladesh.
Adding to the urgency of the letter, a group of local Bangladeshi residents organized a rally at the 37th Road Plaza in Jackson Heights two weeks ago.
Along with more than 40 attendees, Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) spoke at the protest, calling for big business retailers, such as Walmart, Sears and Disney to be held accountable for its overseas deals with Tarzeen.
“Walmart should be called slave mart because that’s how it treats its workers,” Dromm said at the rally. “What happened in Bangladesh only further proves why Walmart does not belong in New York City. It must be held accountable for the fire.”
According to Crowley’s office, the factory owner, who produced clothes for export to the U.S., allegedly claimed that no one had told him to install fire exits and violated other safety codes in the construction of the building.
Because U.S. law grants preferential duties on exports from developing countries, Crowley said that benefits can be retracted unless they are paired with progress on labor rights, so that the development gains of the program are broadly shared.
“Though there is no way to replace the loss of lives in Bangladesh, the silver lining in all of this is that hopefully, we can focus on taking steps forward towards stronger labor reform both in the U.S. and our partnering countries,” Crowley said.
Reach Reporter Megan Montalvo at (718) 357-7400 Ext. 128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.