George Miller is heading for Bangladesh

A Bay Area congressman is Bangladesh-bound this week, intent on inspecting sometimes-deadly conditions in the world’s second-largest garment industry.

George MillerRep. George Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, will be the first member of Congress to visit Bangladesh since the April 24 building collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers and injured more than 2,500. The disaster has brought a worldwide spotlight in working conditions in the South Asian nation, and whether U.S. garment retailers are benefiting from exploitation there.

Miller, who intends to meet with workers, victims, and industry and government officials, has been pressing major U.S. companies whose products are made in Bangladesh to sign onto a new binding and enforceable building and fire safety accord that has been signed by more than 31 companies worldwide. Most large American companies like Wal-Mart and Gap have so far refused to sign on.

“This trip to Bangladesh is an important opportunity to examine the circumstances surrounding the tragic events that have taken so many lives and threaten the lives of so many others,” Miller, D-Martinez, said in a news release.

Bangladesh building collapse (AP)“I hope to learn more about three particular aspects of these tragedies and American involvement in this burgeoning industry – worker safety and health conditions and the impact of the recently inked fire and building safety agreement, garment workers’ rights to form unions without fear of retaliation or persecution, and whether Bangladesh is guaranteeing labor rights and acceptable working conditions that are expected if the United States is to maintain tariff relief provided under the Generalized System of Preferences, a decision on which is expected imminently,” Miller said.

Miller recently penned a front-page editorial for Women’s Wear Daily, urging the fashion industry to come together and improve conditions in Bangladesh. Miller and Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat of the Ways and Means Committee, have also urged the Obama administration to coordinate action to improve workers’ rights and working conditions in Bangladesh.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Pray that he stays!

  • RR senile columnist

    Rep. Miller, please bring back some pants, shirts, pajamas, etc.

  • GV Haste

    While there, he’ll stay in close touch with his office by using his iPhone5, produced in the Foxconn factory, where the workers live in dorms with safety nets outside their rooms. Nets put in place so the workers won’t be killed when they leap out the windows trying to kill themselves.

    Meanwhile, Miller supports specific measures in the immigration reform bill that will bring in hundreds of thousands of more, newly arriving, “low skilled” workers, to a California economy where the unemployment rate for lower skilled and lower educated workers is still over 14%.( No, I’m not talking about agriculture workers)
    Yes, far above the average rate of unemployment in California which is still about 9.0%.

    Good of Miller to bring in more competition for those Americans whose real wages have been kept to zero increase over the past 20 years in great part because of the near unlimited numbers of undocumented workers added as competition.
    Now he goes to Bangladesh, worried about working conditions and wage fairness.

    What about your own poorer citizens Mr. Miller?
    Why have you signed up to bring in ever more competition to their economic environment?
    Big business just loves greater supplies of labor.
    Something about that old “supply and demand” curve.

    On one hand, George Miller introduces a bill to raise the minimum wage to $9.80 and then with the other hand he votes to raise the levels of “unskilled” immigration which brings in ever more workers to compete for those very same jobs where the minimum wage becomes the floor, due to excess labor supply.
    Imagine if for once there was a tight labor market.
    What would business owners have to do?
    Raise wages, which would bring many of those same workers to levels well above Rep. Millers “minimum” wage.

    No one really cares about lower skilled workers and the economic environment in which they live.
    Flood their job market, keep them in the basement of income.
    BTW, Rep. Miller is not alone in following these policies. Most Bay Area reps have the same blinders on.
    (one note, none of this has anything to do with legalizing current undocumented workers. Its about the future flows, after legalization of current residents)

  • Bluecollar voter.

    Great to hear Congressman Miller is travelling to Bangladesh to investigate this tragedy. In the year 2013 it’s incomprehensible that large US corporations – like WalMart – would buy products from firms that employ children, pay slave wages, and don’t even provide safe working conditions for workers. These factory’s overseas, based on what I’ve read, often resemble the unsafe factory’s you found in US in 1900. They also pollute the atmosphere. Clearly the US – as a nation – needs to take a hard look at these plants, and the trade policies that allow these cheap products to be dumped on US markets. Good job by Congressman Miller, I hope he can get at the real story of what is going on. US workers need to know the truth.

  • Bluecollar voter.

    I neglected to mention in my earlier post my grandfather worked at a plant in the mid-west in the 1930’s, they are still cleaning up the toxic waste from that plant today – the EPA has the plant on it’s list of toxic sites. I also want to mention my grandfather, died young – had stroke in his early 50’s, we believe he died so young as a result of the work he did at that plant. When he worked at that plant there was no labor union – not until the 40’s, and my grandfather worked 12 hours a day – seven days a week in the 20’s and 30’s. The US goverment made little effort to monitor working conditions then – such as safety, workers paid a price – often they died young, and here you have the same thing going on – all these years later in Bangladesh, and US corporations are going along with this, as they did in the 20’s and 30’s in the US. Congress must take action on this. Something must be done to protect workers, not just US workers, but everywhere, so I applaud Congressman Miller for his efforts.

  • RR senile columnist

    I deplore the holier-than- thou attitude lefties are so quick to deploy when less than ideal
    Labor conditions are exposed in the Third World. Unions didn’t save lives, labor laws did. Unions played a part, but public pressure was key. If you desire Bengali goods at U. S. prices, throw out your economy textbooks first.

  • Elwood

    @ 4 & 5

    I call bull****!

  • Publius

    I would like to know how long Blue Collar Voter has been working for George Miller?

  • The denial of workers’ rights in units manufacturing garments is not limited to Bangladesh. Tirupur, a garment hub in the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India, makes garments for all retail majors. It boasts of exporting ready-made garments worth of $2.5 billion annually to EU & USA. Workers, mostly migrants from other Indian states, are cruelly exploited. No trade union for workers is allowed. Children and young girls are the worst sufferers. The workers are exposed to the dye stuffs without any protective gears. Being immigrants & poor, many workers who run into serious health problems do not come back to get compensation for medical treatment.

    Apart from rank exploitation of the workers, these export units at Tirupur release untreated effluents in the water sources with the connivance of government machinery. A river called Noyyal is totally destroyed. In January 2011, High Court of Madras (the highest court in the state of TN) ordered the stoppage all dyeing & bleaching units (numbering about 700) and effluent treatment plants (about two dozen) for discharging the effluents directly to the river without treatment. Even after 30 months of this judicial restraint, things have not improved. Rather it has gone from bad to worse. In the name of commercial trials, the same old ecological destruction continues with the connivance of state authorities. In spite of being in the business of dyeing & bleaching for more than four decades, the technology to treat the effluents is yet to be developed in Tirupur. The people living by the side of the polluted water sources are suffering from skin diseases, cancer, infertility, abortion, jaundice etc. Ground water is badly polluted to the extent of 1000 feet. People going in search of clean drinking for miles in cycles, motor cycles and bullock carts is a common scene in this region. Hundreds and thousands of cultivators are the worst sufferers with dwindling produce and loss of livelihood. Cattle have become a burden on the farmers with lesser milk yield, infertility and premature deliveries.

    A dam was constructed about 20 miles downstream of Tirupur across Noyyal River for irrigating about 20,000 acres of land in the year 1992. Not a single acre of land has been irrigated in all these 21 years. This dam in the village Orathupalayam at present is the storage bin of poisonous effluents from the garment factories of Tirupur.

    I would earnestly request you to come and see the destruction of ecology, Right to Life, Right to Health, Right to Livelihood etc in Tirupur from where your retail majors are buying garments.

  • Elwood

    @ 9

    It’s India.

    What did you expect?

  • Dear Mr Elwood, It is India. That is well known. Your President suspended Bangladesh from its Generalised System of Preferences because ”Bangladesh is not taking steps to afford internationally recognised worker rights.” The garments from Tirupur are manufactured and supplied to you crushing all human rights. Why Bangladesh is targeted and Tirupur is ignored by your administration? You have to see to believe the ecological destruction in this water starved region from where you get your garments. Is it not a sin to wear clothing made by destroying people and living beings? For your information, you can’t find a single frog, rat or snake in the river Noyyal. Are you not a party to this genocide?

  • Elwood

    Dear Mr. Narayanan:

    It’s not my administration. I voted for the other guy and am an outspoken opponent of the administration. I think they’re a bunch of flaming idiots.

    I also have no interest in finding frogs, rats or snakes in the river Noyyal.

    And no, I am not a party to this or any other genocide, if that’s what it is. The Indians have created it themselves.