EU considers trade action after Bangladesh factory collapse

Wed May 1, 2013 3:11pm EDT
 
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By Ruma Paul

DHAKA (Reuters) - The European Union is considering trade action against Bangladesh, which has preferential access to EU markets for its garments, to pressure Dhaka to improve safety standards after a building collapse killed more than 400 factory workers.

Duty-free access offered by Western countries and low wages have helped turn Bangladesh's garment exports into a $19 billion a year industry, with 60 percent of clothes going to Europe.

Any action by the EU on Bangladesh's duty-free and quota-free access would require the agreement of all member states and could take more than a year to implement.

"The European Union calls upon the Bangladeshi authorities to act immediately to ensure that factories across the country comply with international labor standards...," the 27-nation bloc said in a statement issued by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht.

In the United States, prominent Democrats Sander Levin and George Miller wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to facilitate the development of a concrete plan of action to address the range of issues relating to working conditions and worker rights in the garment sector in Bangladesh.

The death toll from the collapse last week of the illegally built Rana Plaza in Dhaka's commercial suburb of Savar rose to 411 on Wednesday and about 40 unidentified victims were buried. One woman at the cemetery collapsed into tears when she recognized the body of her sister by her dress.

Several thousand workers rallied in the capital to mark Labour Day, and some called for capital punishment for those responsible for the tragedy.

"The owner of the building ... should be hanged to death and compensation should be given to the injured and those who died," said labor leader Moshrefa Mishu. "A healthy and safe atmosphere should be made in the factories."   Continued...

 
Bodies of unidentified garment workers, who died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, lie on the ground as people gather to watch a mass burial in Dhaka May 1, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj