US suspends GSP benefits to Bangladesh over worker safety

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States withdrew key trade privileges from Bangladesh Thursday, citing dangerous conditions for workers in the wake of a factory building collapse that killed over 1,100 people. The collapse was by far the worst disaster ever in the global textiles industry, leaving 1,129 people dead and shocking many used to the repeated fires and other accidents in the $20 billion Bangladesh garment industry.

The industry comprises some 4,500 factories employing more than three million workers, 80 percent of them women.

Under pressure from consumers and labor groups, international clothing giants like Spain’s Inditex and British retailer Marks & Spencer have agreed to join an industry safety accord, which calls for independent factory inspections in Bangladesh and the right for employees to refuse to work.

Major US retailers like Gap and Walmart have not joined, but are reportedly creating their own group to promote factory safety in Bangladesh. An order by President Barack Obama removed Bangladesh’s duty-free trade privileges under the “GSP” program, increasing pressure on Dhaka to boost workplace safety after a series of disasters in the country’s huge garment industry.