In the face of international criticism over the dangerous conditions in its garment factories, the Bangladesh government has passed a new law aimed at improving conditions – although the export-oriented factories which make up the bulk of the country's garment industry are exempted from a major provision.
The bill, which comes on the heels of several fatal fires and a building collapse that killed 1,129 workers, strengthens requirements for permits when factories add floors. It also mandates that factories contribute five percent of their profits to a welfare fund for employees. Export-oriented factories – which account for $18 billion in annual exports for Bangladesh -- are exempt from the provision.
News sources say the law also continues a policy that’s been criticized for hindering the ability of unions to organize in Bangladesh factories – the requirement that organizers gather the signatures of 30 percent of a company’s workers. Labor leaders had objected that the enormous workforces of many apparel manufacturers made reaching that number an impossibility, and requested a 10 percent goal.
Bangladesh’ labor ministry is prohibited from giving factory owners the names of workers who support unionization, but labor leaders say that could still happen, leading to workers being terminated from their jobs.
The legislation comes less than a month after the U.S. suspended Bangladesh’s trade preferences over concerns that the government was not doing enough to safeguard its garment factory workers. The European Union has also threatened to revoke Bangladesh’s trade privileges.
The Obama administration said the new law is being reviewed.