Bangladesh could be one of targets of US’ labour policy: Washington mission to commerce ministry

Last Updated on November 29, 2023 9:50 am

Dhaka: The US’ latest policy on labour rights warrants enough reasons for Bangladesh to be alarmed, the Bangladesh embassy in Washington has said, stating that the issue should be “taken into cognizance with priority by concerned stakeholders.”

In a letter dated 20 November sent to Tapan Kanti Ghosh, senior secretary, the Ministry of Commerce by Md Selim Reza, minister (Commerce), Embassy of Bangladesh, he said there are reasons to believe that Bangladesh may be one of the targets of the US’ recently released memorandum on labour rights.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Business Standard, said the policy will be another political tool to take measures on the pretext of labour issues.

“Though the ‘Memorandum’ appears to be a global policy applicable for all countries, there are reasons to believe that Bangladesh may be one of the targets.

“Labour issues in Bangladesh were specifically quoted by the Secretary of State and Acting Secretary of Labour at the launching ceremony [of the memorandum],” the letter said.

Talking to The Business Standard, Senior Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh said he received the letter from the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington, but it was not an alert.

“The letter is not an alert, it is a normal communication,” Ghosh told TBS over phone today.

On 16 November, Secretary of the US Department of State Antony J Blinken announced the Presidential Memorandum on Advancing Worker Empowerment, Rights, and High Labor Standards Globally.

During the launching ceremony, he said those who threaten, intimidate, attack union leaders, labour rights defenders and labour organisations will be held accountable.

One of the lines of efforts is steps like sanctions, trade penalties, and visa restrictions, he said.

The timing of the memorandum coincided with violent protests raging across Bangladesh’s garments sector – the jewel in Bangladesh’s export crown, with exports reaching over $46.99 billion in the fiscal year 2023 – centring a hike in RMG workers minimum wage.

“As per the ‘Memorandum’, the US foreign mission would directly interact/deal with labour issues, the policy may encourage interested US diplomats/missions to interfere in many internal/domestic issues,” the letter said.

On how far ranging the memorandum would be, the letter said, “It seems that there are scopes for this policy to be imposed at individual, firm or state level if they anticipate/believe, the labour’ rights are violated.”

The letter said, “The political context of the ‘Memorandum’ has many reasons to be alarmed. Politics is behind what is said about labour rights in the memorandum, and the US would try to use the political purpose in different ways.”

Terming the memorandum to be a signal for Bangladesh, it said the US may try to take any measure described in it in the “excuse of labour issues.”

“The memorandum may also have an impact on Bangladesh’s apparel sector…,” the letter said.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen today said there would be no problem if the US imposed sanctions on Bangladesh.

“It is their [US] internal issue. They are a country of sanctions, they may impose sanctions, and they are rich. We will determine our steps as per our reality,” the minister told the media.

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