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US lawmakers press Bangladesh on factory reform

world Updated: May 15, 2013 07:58 IST

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US lawmakers are preparing to press Bangladesh to improve factory conditions, urging the government to commit to thorough reforms to prevent new disasters, according to a letter seen on Tuesday.

In a letter being drafted to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, US lawmakers plan to urge her to put "the highest priority on aggressively enacting and enforcing comprehensive reforms" to ensure safety standards and the rights of workers.

"We believe there is simply no substitute for tough, comprehensive, uncompromising government support for legislation and fully resourced law enforcement and administrative action," said the letter.

The lawmakers plan to call on Bangladesh to allow labor unions in export processing zones, as well as to improve factory safety and investigate the unsolved killing last year of labor activist Aminul Islam.

The letter, a copy of which was seen by AFP, is being spearheaded by Representative Joe Crowley, the founder of a congressional caucus on Bangladesh, and being circulated for other lawmakers to sign.

Similar efforts by lawmakers have affected US policy toward Bangladesh in the past, including by helping start an ongoing review by the United States on whether to maintain duty-free access for Bangladeshi goods.

The appeal comes after the April 24 collapse of a nine-story building that housed multiple garment factories outside Bangladesh's capital Dhaka. More than 1,100 people died in the worst disaster ever in the global textile industry.

Since the disaster, Bangladesh has pledged an investigation and set up a panel to raise wages for textile workers, whose $38 in average monthly pay has been likened by Pope Francis to slave labor.

A growing number of fashion labels, mostly from Europe, have said that they will enter an agreement with more binding conditions to improve the safety of factories in Bangladesh, the second largest ready-made garment exporter.