US senators press Walmart on Bangladesh unions

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2013 (AFP) – A US Senate report on Friday urged Walmart, Gap and other retailers to respect labor unions in Bangladesh, saying workers desperately needed greater rights after hundreds died in fires. “They should also collectively develop and implement a policy of zero-tolerance for suppliers who consistently engage in anti-union activity,” it said.

The report called on the United States to step up funding to support workers’ rights in Bangladesh and to keep high standards as it considers lifting the South Asian country’s suspension from duty-free access for many of its exports.

Bangladeshi authorities recently cracked down on unions that have led street protests against a new $68-a-month minimum wage, which represents a 76 percent hike but is still below salaries in other major garment exporters such as Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. The staff report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic Party majority came as Bangladesh’s government and foreign retailers agreed to start safety inspections on the 3,500 factories in the world’s largest garment maker after China.

Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the committee, vowed to help give workers “the tools they need t