President Obama has suspended Bangladesh’s duty-free trade privileges in an effort to pressure the government to improve working conditions for garment workers. The move comes after a clothing factory collapsed in April, killing 1,129 workers and shining an international spotlight on the dismal conditions faced by workers that make clothes for brands like Gap Inc. and Walmart.
The White House has announced it will revoke Bangladesh’s duty privileges under the Generalized System of Preferences, a World Trade Organization program, for exports like tobacco and plastic, but the move will not affect the garment industry as it does not currently benefit from trade privileges, according to the New York Times.
“The U.S. decision sends a very strong signal to the government of Bangladesh that they have to do things differently, that there’s a consequence to the way they’ve been operating,” said Michael H. Posner, a former assistant secretary of state of human and labor rights in the Obama administration.
Since the tragedy that claimed so many lives, Bangladesh has failed to enact any meaningful changes to improve working conditions or respect worker’s rights despite urging from labor groups and the Obama administration. The increased tariffs on certain goods is seen as a mostly symbolic measure or a blow to the country’s reputation that will affect less than one percent of US imports. Critics claim the loss of trade privileges will stunt an already struggling economy.
The restrictions will take effect in 60 days.