Labor Department Offers $2.5 Million in Grants to Improve Bangladeshi Factory Conditions

Laborers work at the site where a Bangladesh garment-factory building collapsed in April. Laborers work at the site where a Bangladesh garment-factory building collapsed in April. A.M. Ahad/AP

The U.S. Labor Department wants to improve the subpar safety standards in Bangladesh's garment sector and is putting up $2.5 million in grants to do it.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on April 24 killed more than 1,100 people and is considered to be among the worst modern structural collapses, second only to the building collapses on 9/11, according to the BBC. The Bangladeshi building was found to have had illegal additions and unaddressed structural problems.

Such problems are widespread in Bangladesh, the Associated Press reported on Thursday, citing a new report:

Taken together, the findings offer the first broad look at just how unsafe the working conditions are for the garment workers who produce clothing for major Western brands. And it's more bad news for the $20 billion industry that has been struggling to regain the confidence of Western retailers and consumers following a November fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory that killed 112 people and the April collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed 1,129 people in the worst garment-industry tragedy. But the proliferation of inspections could signal the industry is finally taking its workers' safety seriously.

If the industry wasn't taking the issue seriously on its own, it now has added incentive in the $2.5 million Labor Department grant. Applications are due August 2.

Here's the department's full release about the funding:

The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs today announced a $2.5 million competitive grant solicitation to fund improvements in the enforcement and monitoring of fire and building safety standards to better protect workers in the ready-made garment sector of Bangladesh.

Ready-made garment production has been central to Bangladesh's economic development, with the sector accounting for the vast majority of Bangladesh's exports to the United States. The industry also is the focus of long-standing concerns over violations of worker rights and workplace safety standards. The Government of Bangladesh has been the subject of a review under the Generalized System of Preferences trade program since 2007. Attention to these concerns has grown in the wake of the Tazreen Fashions factory fire last November that killed more than 100 garment workers and the Rana Plaza building collapse in late April that led to the loss of more than 1,200 lives.

In recent months, the Government of Bangladesh, industry, worker and civil-society organizations, and other groups have engaged in stepped-up efforts to address fire and building safety concerns. The government and other stakeholders, however, have a great deal of additional work to do in order to implement existing and developing plans.

The Department of Labor's funding of technical assistance represents one important element in a broader strategy to address these issues. The department will fund one or more recipients who will work to (1) strengthen the Bangladesh Government's ability to improve its enforcement of fire and building safety standards and (2) build the capacity of worker organizations to effectively monitor violations of fire and building safety standards and abate related hazards in the ready-made garment sector.

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