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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

An open letter to Michael J Delaney

Update : 18 Sep 2015, 07:41 PM

Dear Mr Delaney,

Please accept my advance apologies for the “out of the blue” nature of this communication where I am taking the liberty of bringing up a relatively overlooked perspective on the upcoming General System of Preferences (GSP) review talks that your team will be having with the Bangladeshi regime soon.

The concerns raised by your office -- and indeed the administration as a whole --  pertain to certain verifiable facts on the ground that simply cannot be wished away, notwithstanding the continuing posturing and haranguing of the regime in Bangladesh.

As an individual who once called Bangladesh his home, and continues to maintain deep ties with her, I appreciate the principled stand that the Office of the United States Trade Representative has taken in this regard; as an ardent believer in free trade’s many benefits, I am sensitive to the tough situation this impasse creates for businesses and consumers in both countries.

Yet, free trade without accountability creates hazards of the kind that your team has been observing in Bangladesh for several years, the best of laws written on paper whither in implementation when there is very little evidence of the responsibility that stems from democratic governance. Unfortunately, such lack of accountability and responsibility is precisely at the kernel of the dilemma of labour rights and safe workplaces that your colleagues have pointed out previously.

The current government barely has much incentive, internally, to enforce regulations that protect the rights of workers to associate freely or to work in safe environs. On the contrary, with Bangladesh’s major business associations now slowly being brought in line, quite the opposite is true.

Nor is it prudent to place much stock in the law enforcement mechanism. Given the relatively low numbers of prosecutors, police, civil servants, or judges who serve outside the ambit of the official administration, the concept of “rule of law” exists far more in proceedings of academic seminars in Dhaka’s posh hotels than in the reality of the lives of the people of Bangladesh.

The few human rights organisations who have pointed this out -- Transparency International, Odhikar, BHRC -- have been immediately subjected to a crackdown, as the 2015 recipient of the RFK Human Rights Award, former Bangladeshi prosecutor Adilur Rahman Khan pointed out in his acceptance remarks for the august prize.

The sad reality, as witnessed by abundant scholarly literature, is that, without proper democratic governance, the fundamental accountability needed for the sustained protection of labour rights simply cannot exist in any meaningful fashion.

If indeed the goal of President Obama’s administration and the USTR is to create a sustainable environment where the fundamental human rights of textile workers are  respected in law and enforced in fact, there is no other choice but to emphasise to Bangladesh its moral and constitutional duty to restore the actual independence of the courts, rein in its paramilitary terror squad “BCL,” and arrange for free, fair, and internationally monitored national elections.

As a university lecturer of political science, I am under no illusion about the efficacy of trade-related talks to bring about the restoration of democracy in far-away shores. Nonetheless, I am also confident that the current context of the upcoming GSP review talks gives you and your team a unique niche in encouraging the Dhaka regime to respect the rights of the people of Bangladesh.

I thank you for your years of outstanding public service and hope we continue to benefit from it for many more years to come. 

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