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US ambassador warns of export curbs

Says murder of labor leader has enraged garment buyers in the US and Europe

The garment sector is the largest foreign exchange earner for Bangladesh The garment sector is the largest foreign exchange earner for Bangladesh
  • By ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • June 7, 2012
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Bangladesh’s garments and textile export market might collapse if the recent murder of a labor leader goes unsolved, the US ambassador told the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association (BGMEA) at a meeting yesterday.

“I believe the changing perception of Bangladesh among American RMG [ready-made garments] buyers potentially threatens the economic well-being of this country,” Dan Mozena said.

American companies buy more than a quarter of the country's garment and textile exports, and labor leader Aminul Islam worked for a group that is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. His death enraged trade unions around the world, driving some American lawmakers to lodge complaints with the US State Department.

Reported violations of labor rights and unrest send a negative message to organizations in the US and Europe, Mozena said.

The US$18 billion garment and textile sector is the highest-earning export from Bangladesh. Its 5.5 million workers make it the second-largest employer in the largely agricultural country.

But exports have seen a 7 percent decline from the last fiscal year, due largely to the economic recession in the US and Europe.

“There might be some impact over the murder of Aminul [Islam] and law-enforcing agencies can be questioned on why justice is not yet done,” said BGMEA leader Rafiqul Islam, after the meeting. “We can’t take the blame for it,” he said.

The factory owner said the ambassador’s statements were personal opinion.

“He alleged that workers are paid poorly,” Rafiqul Islam said. “We pay an entry-level worker gross 4,000 taka [US$49], and I admit it is not enough to cope with the rising cost of living. Meanwhile, a full-time worker is supposed to get 5,000 taka, but often through bargaining with owners they claim 9,000-10,000 taka.”

But a labor leader said today the concerns of the US ambassador are legitimate.

“We have fought for our lawful rights all these years and also recently demanded justice for the heinous murder of our colleague Aminul,” said Babul Akter, president of Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation.

“Factory owners often have a tendency of getting maximum service from workers by paying the minimum. When we protest we are vilified and tortured.”

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