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New Bangladeshi Law Lets Workers Unionize More Freely

The garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,000 people in April, has spurred the Parliament into action.

The legislature approved a law Monday that makes it easier for workers to unionize. The vote comes amid scrutiny of working conditions in the country after the building collapse outside Dhaka, the capital.

The building, Rana Plaza, housed garment factories that churned out products for some of the world's top brands.

The collapse, the worst disaster in the history of the garment industry, highlighted the global nature of the business — goods made in low-cost, low-wage countries such as Bangladesh being sold in popular Western chains like Zara, H&M and Gap.

Reuters has more on the new law:

"The legislation puts in place provisions including a central fund to improve living standards of workers, a requirement for 5 percent of annual profits to be deposited in employee welfare funds and an assurance that union members will not be transferred to another factory of the same owner after labor unrest."

Pressure From The U.S.

Bangladesh's Daily Star newspaper reported that the amendment on labor unions is "a bid to appease the Obama administration to regain the duty benefits suspended by the U.S. on June 27 on grounds of poor labor rights and unsafe working conditions."

That's a reference to the Generalized System of Preferences. The program allows a certain number of products from more than 100 developing nations to be sold in the U.S. duty-free.

But the program doesn't cover garments — Bangladesh's main export to the U.S. A similar European Union program does, though, and there was speculation the bloc may pressure Bangladesh to overhaul working conditions.

Monday's vote comes just a week after two separate agreements.

One involves mostly European retailers and unions, and it creates a team of inspectors who will evaluate fire, electrical, structural and worker safety in facilities supplying the brands that have signed on.

The other agreement is a nonbinding initiative involving 17 U.S. brands and suppliers, including Wal-Mart and Gap. Labor groups, which are not part of this agreement, have criticized it.

NPR has reported extensively on the factory collapse in Bangladesh. Here's a list of related recent stories:

Bangladesh Collapse: The Garment Workers Who Survived

Fashion's Victims: An Artist's Focus On Garment Workers

Would You Pay A Higher Price For 'Ethical' Clothing?

Can This Dominican Factory Pay Good Wages And Make A Profit?

Bangladesh's Powerful Garment Sector Fends Off Regulation

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