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US to Push for Major Factory Safety Reforms in Bangladesh

May 22, 2013
If the proposals suggested by the U.S. are accepted, it will become the largest 'better work' program in history,' said U.S. ambassador Dan Mozena.

DHAKA -- A U.S. government delegation will visit Bangladesh this weekend to press for a major overhaul of factory safety following the nation's deadliest industrial accident, an official said Wednesday.

The collapse of a nine-storey factory complex outside the capital last month killing 1,127 workers highlighted appalling safety conditions in Bangladesh's 4,500 garment plants.

The U.S. delegation, led by the State Department's Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, will arrive Sunday for a two-day visit and will meet officials in the Bangladesh government.

"They'll talk about labor law reforms and what is the best way to proceed," U.S. ambassador Dan Mozena said.

"They'll talk about fire safety standards -- a minimum standard for every factory. They'll talk about minimum structural soundness standards," he said.

If the proposals are accepted, "it will become the largest 'better work' program in history," he said.

U.S. firms are among the leading garment importers from impoverished Bangladesh.

The Rana Plaza building which housed five factories was found after the collapse to have flouted building laws by constructing upper floors without required structural changes.

Mozena praised recent Bangladesh moves to reform labor laws but said "there are some outstanding issues" to be addressed, without elaborating.

The government has pledged to tighten factory safety inspections and make it easier for workers to form unions.

It has also set up a panel to raise wages for the three million garment workers, whose basic $38 monthly pay prompted Pope Francis to compare it to that of "slave" labor.

Poor wages and repeated fatal accidents have led to a series of protests in the main garment manufacturing hubs, halting shipments and forcing some retailers to divert orders to other countries.

The factory collapse followed three fires in quick succession in garment plants that claimed the lives of around 130 workers as they made clothing for leading Western retailers such as  Walmart.

"There will be discussion on how to ensure such tragedies are never repeated," the U.S. envoy said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013

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