A statement attributed to the head of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has been described as "outrageous and unacceptable" by the US.

Commenting on remarks by BGMEA President Atiqul Islam that individuals and labour rights activists who directly contact the US government or Congress should be prosecuted for sedition, Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson at the State Department, said: "We have grave concerns about these statements."

Questioned about the issue during a press briefing last week, Harf said: "These statements, if true, are outrageous and unacceptable."

She added: "Bangladesh enjoys a rich tradition of parliamentary democracy, free speech, free association, and any attempt to muzzle civil society, including through these kinds of means, would be to the detriment of all Bangladeshis."

The comments are said to have been made following a visit to the US earlier this month by a Bangladesh delegation led by Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed.

It is alleged that during the visit, the Commerce Minister was shown a letter sent to US lawmakers by the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF), a member of IndustriAll Bangladesh Council, claiming workers were being "harrassed and repressed".

At an event last week, Islam is reported to have responded: "There are laws and courts in this country. Despite that, those who are making allegations abroad without informing anyone must face sedition charges."

Ironically, the minister was using his visit to urge the US to consider duty-free market access for Bangladesh-made apparel, and update US lawmakers on progress being made in Bangladesh to meet a US action plan set out before GSP benefits can be reinstated - including initiatives to improve workers safety and labour rights.

just-style has put out a number of requests for comment.