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U.S. Official Urges Buyers to Stay in Bangladesh

International garment buyers are critical to improving factory safety in Bangladesh, said a U.S. government official on Monday. Buyers should not be dissuaded by global scrutiny of safety in Bangladesh, following a deadly building collapse that killed 1,130 people.

The official, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy R. Sherman, spoke at a news conference in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, saying, “We are encouraging international investors not to turn their back on Bangladesh, because the solution is reform, not withdrawal.”

Brands and retailers have been grappling with the new scrutiny since the deadly April 24th collapse of the Rana Plaza building. They have found the situation to be difficult, with a lack of enforced safety rules, unclear building codes, a severe shortage of inspectors, a lack of equipment, and widespread corruption that is undermining efforts. At the same time, illicit subcontracting is undermining their efforts, as well-run factories simply send their production to cheaper, uninspected factories, as margin pressure continues undiminished.

A recent report from Sourcing Journal Online hints that orders are down by 10 to 15 percent already, with a serious crunch coming between July and September.

Still, Sherman said foreign companies should stick with Bangladesh. “Ultimately, success will depend on the will and commitment of industry, government, civil society, and every day Bangladeshis to come together to change the culture of workplace safety and worker rights in Bangladesh,” she said.

The U.S. also supports civil society organizations and labor groups that are advocating for greater safety provision sand higher wages. They are pushing to enshrine the right of workers to join trade unions – a move which preceded the improvement of safety conditions in the United States, at the turn of the last century.

According to Reuters, the Rana Plaza collapse was the world’s deadliest industry disaster since a gas leak in Bhopal, India, in 1984. Last year, 112 workers were killed in a fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory on the outskirts of Dhaka.