Mary Jane Bolle
Specialist in International Trade and Finance
The April 24, 2013, collapse of an eight-story garment factory, called Rana Plaza, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, resulted in the deaths of more than 1,100 workers. It is reportedly now considered the deadliest accident in the history of the apparel industry. Congress has had a long-standing interest in supporting internationally recognized worker rights in developing countries, and the building collapse has raised concerns about worker conditions in Bangladesh.
Rana Plaza was allegedly structurally unsound and poorly maintained for apparel production. Apparel production is generally known as an industry under threat of fire, and one where workers need easy access to rapid escape routes. Issues relating to workers’ inability to effectively exercise their rights to organize, bargain collectively, and work in a safe workplace may have contributed to the tragedy. For example, workers reportedly noticed cracks in the building and resisted entering, and were told that if they did not report to their jobs, they would not be paid. The factory collapse brought international focus to those parts of global supply chains that may not meet basic safety and health standards.
The U.S. government supports internationally recognized worker rights through various policies and programs. These include U.S. trade preference programs, free trade agreements, foreign assistance, and Department of Labor initiatives.
Congressional and U.S. efforts in this regard are part of an international worker rights support structure in place to offer technical assistance and support to countries—especially developing countries. Other major parts of this structure include international organizations, such as the International Labor Organization (ILO), founded in 1919; and corporate codes of conduct, which have arisen from a broader movement of corporate social responsibility that gained strength in the 1980s and 1990s.
Early analysis of the causes of the Bangladesh tragedy raises questions about what went wrong and about what can be done to help Bangladesh to improve working conditions at factories. Efforts to make changes in Bangladesh are already underway, and developments on this issue are evolving.
This report provides an overview of the recent tragedy in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh economic environment and culture. It also notes the responses to the tragedy, to date, from Congress, the Administration, the ILO, the Bangladesh government, and the private sector. Finally, it raises some possible issues for Congress.
Date of Report: November 1, 2013
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: R43085
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