U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan Mozena warned garment industry leaders in Dhaka that recent developments in the ready-made garment industry, including the unsolved murder of union activist Aminul Islam, could coalesce into “a perfect storm that could threaten the Bangladesh brand” in the United States.
“Although this murder has elicited little attention or interest in Bangladesh, that is not the case in the United States, where worker rights supporters have seized on this issue, highlighting it as a major escalation in the erosion of worker rights in Bangladesh,” Mozena told executives of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Export Association at a meeting on Wednesday. His remarks came only weeks after a town meeting in Dhaka at which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fielded a question about the murder of Islam, a longtime friend of the Solidarity Center.
Mozena also cited other concerns by major U.S. brands that could have a negative impact on the garment industry. He described how the CEO of one of Bangladesh’s major buyers had called him at midnight to express concern about critical reports on such issues as the recent spate of fires in garment factories. The fires result from lack of labor organization, he said the CEO told him, as union workers do not accept dangerous health and safety conditions in the workplace.
“Bangladeshi activists who monitor labor in the RMG sector tell me that workers are becoming increasingly restive,” Mozena continued, “due mainly to the growing failure of wages to keep up with the rising cost of living and the increasing vulnerability labor leaders feel as a result of the murder of Aminul Islam and harassment of other labor activists.”
Mozena stressed that the BGMEA had the power to overcome these hazards and make Bangladesh the next “Asian tiger.” But he made it clear that failing to address them presented a potential threat to Bangladesh’s economic well-being.