On Sunday, the Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA), the Bangladesh Shrimp and Fish Foundation (BSFF), and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS) are reported to have signed a Memorandum of Agreement committing the groups to work together to achieve compliance with labor laws in Bangladesh’s shrimp processing sector.
The Agreement was reached a week and a half after the AFL-CIO and the Southern Shrimp Alliance filed comments critical of labor practices in the Bangladeshi shrimp industry with the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Subcommittee of the Trade Policy Staff Committee (TPSC).
The AFL-CIO’s comments reported that the Bangladeshi government has recently ordered Social Activities for Environment (SAFE), a non-governmental organization, to “cease all activities” because of their advocacy on behalf of shrimp workers. Further, the AFL-CIO’s report detailed the story of the harassment of a labor union working at the Bangladeshi shrimp processor Southern Foods Ltd., eventually leading to its effective dissolution. In total, the AFL-CIO reports that there are only eleven labor unions in the one-hundred and forty-five shrimp and fish processing plants in Bangladesh. The report concluded that the Government of Bangladesh has “shown a blatant disregard for worker safety and financial security, as well as the rights of freedom of association, organization, collective bargaining, and acceptable conditions of work.”
The U.S. government’s review of labor practices in Bangladesh is the result of a worker’s rights petition filed by the AFL-CIO in 2007 that asked the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to withdraw GSP tariff benefits from the country. Since 2008, the USTR has placed Bangladesh under “continuing review” to monitor efforts to eliminate labor abuses. As detailed in the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s report, there exists reputable, objective third-party reports that labor abuse in the shrimp processing sector have recently worsened.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan Mozena was quoted as saying that the Agreement was “an important element of Bangladesh’s response to the concerns raised in the GSP petition regarding labour rights and working conditions in the [ready-made garments] and shrimp industries.”
Under the terms of the Agreement, the three parties will collectively develop a report analyzing the present working conditions of shrimp and fish processing workers. The report will also evaluate where vulnerabilities exist in the industry’s compliance with labor rules.
Read the “News Alert: Southern Shrimp Alliance Submits Report on Labor Abuses in Bangladesh’s Farmed-Shrimp Industry”: http://www.shrimpalliance.com/news-alert-southern-shrimp-alliance-submits-report-on-labor-abuses-in-bangladeshs-farmed-shrimp-industry/
Read the AFL-CIO’s March 2013 Pre-Hearing Brief to the GSP Subcommittee of the TPSC: http://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/AFLCIO-BG-USTR-document.pdf
Read The Financial Express’s “MoA Signed to Develop Shrimp Industry” (Mar. 25, 2013): http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/index.php?ref=MjBfMDNfMjVfMTNfMV84OV8xNjQzMjA=
Read Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), National News Agency of Bangladesh’s “MoA Signed for Promotion of Bangladesh Shrimp Processing Plants” (Mar. 24, 2013): http://www1.bssnews.net/newsDetails.php?cat=0&id=321053&date=2013-03-24