US official calls up Dhaka garment industry representatives

The conference call was part of the Obama Administration`s effort to engage the garment industry to improve workers` rights, working conditions in Bangladesh.

Washington: After the tragic building collapse in Dhaka that took the lives of more than 800 people, a top US official has held a conference call with the representatives of garment industry in the country.

The conference call was part of the Obama Administration`s effort to engage the garment industry to improve workers` rights and working conditions in Bangladesh, and to review how the private sector can assist in these vital ongoing efforts.

During the call, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake, and Special Representative for International Labour Affairs, Barbara Shailor, yesterday noted that the tragedy at Rana Plaza once again underscores the urgent need for government, owners, buyers, and labour organisations to work together to improve the safety of the workers in Bangladesh.

"Both the United States and Bangladesh have a shared interest in ensuring that the growth of Bangladesh`s export sector does not come at the expense of safe and healthy working conditions or fundamental labour rights," the State Department said in a statement.

It strongly urged US buyers to coordinate efforts with each other and with the Government of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), as well as civil society and labour groups, on factory safety and fire initiatives, including helping pay for independent safety and fire inspectors.

Meanwhile, in his first interview since the collapse of a garment factory complex, the chief executive officer of Benetton told The Huffington Post that his company had purchased small quantities of shirts from a manufacturer that operated inside the plant.

Chief executive Biagio Chiarolanza said Benetton bought the shirts from a company called New Wave Style, which operated one of the several garment factories inside the Rana Plaza building.

"The New Wave company, at the time of the tragic disaster, was not one of our suppliers, but one of our direct Indian suppliers had subcontracted two orders," said Chiarolanza, told The Huffington Post.

Last week, New York Congresswoman, Grace Meng, sent letters to the chief executive officers of Walmart, the Gap and the American Apparel Footwear Association, a major trade group, urging them to take leading roles to protect the subcontracted workers they use in Bangladesh`s clothing factories.

"It is time for US companies to finally take responsibility for the widespread safety problems that have long plagued the factories they use in Bangladesh," she said.

The US imports a major chunk of the readymade garments being prepared in Bangladesh.