US President Joe Biden recently signed a memorandum aimed at safeguarding workers’ rights. It sparked discussions in various arenas and raising speculation about its potential impact on Bangladesh. Titled ‘Advancing Worker Empowerment, Rights, and High Labor Standards Globally,’ the memorandum could specifically target Bangladesh, with implications extending widely across the country. Its impact may be imposed on persons, institutions, or the state.
The Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington issued a letter to the Commerce Ministry in Dhaka, warning about the potential consequences of the memorandum. Dated November 20, the letter highlights the official endorsement by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on November 16, when President Biden signed the Presidential Memorandum. The memorandum aims to empower workers, ensure labor rights, and enhance the quality of life for workers, with sanctions as a possible measure against those opposing workers’ rights or intimidating them.
While the memorandum is a global policy applicable to all countries, there are reasons to be concerned. Secretary of State Blinken mentioned Kalpana Akhter, the leader of Bangladesh’s garment workers’ movement, in connection with the new US policy on labor rights. The letter emphasizes that U.S. embassies abroad can directly address labor-related issues, potentially leading to interventions not only in labor matters but also in political affairs, raising concerns among the country’s populace.
There is apprehension that the policy may embolden U.S. ambassadors or missions to interfere in domestic affairs, posing risks not only to labor but also to political stability. These concerns are shared by various stakeholders in the country.
According to Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data, in the last fiscal year 2022-23, Bangladesh exported goods worth US$ 9.7 billion to the United States, with ready-made garments accounting for US$ 8.51 billion. Despite a decline in exports this year, the garment sector significantly contributed to the country’s earnings.
However, Mohammad Hatem, the executive president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, asserted that there is no justification to undermine the rights of workers in Bangladesh. He mentioned that the government is actively engaging with labor union leaders to address these issues.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that in May, the United States implemented a visa policy for Bangladesh, targeting individuals involved in obstructing the democratic electoral process. This policy encompasses various entities, including current and former officials, members of political parties, law enforcement, the judiciary, and security forces.
In light of these issues, there is a need for careful consideration of the potential implications, especially given the significant decline in Bangladesh’s garment exports to North America and the European Union, which together account for approximately 80 percent of the country’s total exports.