WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today released a new Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff report investigating the treatment of garment workers, labor rights, and factory safety in Bangladesh. At an event with AFL-CIO’s President Richard L. Trumka, Menendez discussed the fight for freedom of association and workers’ rights at home and around the world before unveiling the comprehensive report, which comes nearly seven years after the Rana Plaza factory collapse killed more than 1,100 Bangladeshis. The report, titled, “Seven Years After Rana Plaza, Significant Challenges Remain,” assesses the progress made in factory safety, but finds a deteriorating environment for labor rights and abuse of Ready-Made Garment (RMG) factory workers, particularly female workers.
“Today’s report shines a light on the struggle of workers in Bangladesh not just for safer conditions, but for dignity and respect for their rights as workers,” said Ranking Member Menendez. “Despite improvements in building safety over the past seven years, we found that the workers inside are not necessarily safer. Abuse unfortunately remains widespread, and workers’ rights are often sacrificed for the sake of meeting quotas in a relentless fashion industry. As I said in 2013, when I held my first hearing on labor rights and factory safety in Bangladesh, American consumers will simply not accept clothes stained with the blood of those who made them.”
"This is a timely report, not just as we commemorate the seventh anniversary of Rana Plaza, but because worker rights are under attack here and around the world,” said AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka. “They’re under attack in Bangladesh. They’re under attack in Mexico, as autopart workers are forced to disaffiliate under pressure from the government and police. And they’re under attack here in the United States as the Trump administration rolls back worker rights and protections with reckless abandon."
Commissioned by Menendez as a follow-up investigation to Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings (here and here) and report he authored after the Rana Plaza collapse, this new report finds that labor rights in Bangladesh have precipitously declined in recent years, as union organizers contend with pressure on freedoms to associate, organize, and demonstrate. Factory safety conditions have measurably improved in many RMG facilities, due to the joint efforts of internationally-led initiatives, labor unions, industry and government. However, the report also found factory owners themselves are still implicated in sexual harassment and abuse of workers, while the government of Bangladesh has failed to hold any perpetrators accountable.
Talking about the life of a factory worker, Senator Menendez said that “I know how difficult this work can be, but it should never be fatal. The work environment should never be hostile. And the right to organize and collectively bargain should never be trampled on. All of us must live up to these values. And I truly believe Bangladesh has an opportunity to lead the way, to set that gold standard, to be that country that not only produces good products, but does so safely and ethically,” concluded Menendez, whose mother was a seamstress in the factories of northern New Jersey.
“Seven Years After Rana Plaza, Significant Challenges Remain” provides practical and timely recommendations for the U.S. Government, the government of Bangladesh, the Bangladesh national trade association, apparel brands, and other stakeholders to protect workers from abuse, ensure workers are empowered to defend their rights, and to safeguard and advance gains in factory safety.
The report includes the following key findings:
Key recommendations in the report include:
January 21, 2021