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Dhaka Tribune

RMG fate uncertain after Obama signs bill against forced labour

Update : 26 Feb 2016, 09:31 PM

The fate of Bangladeshi RMG exports to the US seems uncertain, after US President Barack Obama signed a bill on Wednesday barring the import of goods produced by forced labour from entering the United States.

Shipments derived from slavery will be kept out of the country under the new law that closes a legal loophole that allowed import of such goods if US demand exceeded domestic production.

Although there was no official remark on whether Bangladeshi goods would be affected by the restrictions, the US government lists garment products from Bangladesh among goods that are produced by child or forced labour.

According to a 2014 assessment by the United States Department of Labour, the other goods produced by child or forced labour in Bangladesh are bidis, bricks, dried fish, footwear, steel furniture, glass, leather, jute textiles, matches, poultry, salt, shrimp, soap and textiles.

When contacted, Senior Commerce Secretary Hedayetullah Al Mamoon told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday that there was no scope to include Bangladesh in the provision of forced labour or workers’ abuse, as “forced labour is completely banned by the constitution and there is no such abuse of women in the country.”

However, he added that an official statement would be made after a US statement reaches the Bangladeshi government and discussions are held with authorities concerned following a review.

Meanwhile, BGMEA President Siddiqur Rahman said: “There is no slavery, child labour, forced labour or abuse of RMG women workers [in Bangladesh].”

Talking to the Dhaka Tribune over phone from Singapore, he claimed that such allegations of forced labour were totally absent in other industrial sectors too.

Bangladesh is an International Labour Organisation-ratified country and follows the labour act and the ILO standards to ensure workers’ rights, the BGMEA chief added.

Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of Centre for Policy Dialogue, also said that allegations of abuse on female workers in the RMG sector did not reflect the reality and were unjustified.

Even in the 16 conditions outlined by the US government after the suspension of GSP, the Obama administration did not mention this issue of forced labour, he added.

Sirajul Islam Rony, president of pro-government Bangladesh National Garment Workers-Employees League, said that any allegation about abusing women in the RMG sector was insulting for the tens of thousands of workers as they were aware of their own rights through trade unions.

After the 2013 Rana Plaza incident, the level of compliance, safety, and workers’ rights had reached such great heights that there could be no abuse of women workers in the country, Rony claimed.

US Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio, who sponsored the amendment, said Wednesday that his office was already asking the US Customs and Border Protection to ensure they begin enforcing the new rules when the law takes effect in 15 days.

“It is embarrassing that for 85 years, the US let products made with forced labour into this country, and closing this loophole gives the US an important tool to fight global slavery,” he said.

The ILO estimates that 20.9m people are victims of forced labour globally and the illegal industry is estimated to generate $150bn in profits per year. 

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