A US government official has urged garment buyers and global investors not to turn their backs on Bangladesh, calling for "reform not withdrawal" to solve the workplace safety and worker rights issues currently facing the country.

Speaking in Dhaka yesterday (27 May), Wendy Sherman, US undersecretary for political affairs, said bringing about change will ultimately depend on the commitment of industry, government and civil society.

The US diplomat's remarks came against the backdrop of the Rana Plaza tragedy last month, in which more than 1,100 people, mostly garment workers, lost their lives.   

She added that the US was "working with American companies that source garments from factories in Bangladesh to secure their support for better safety inspections."

The US is also "funding local labour and civil society organisations to promote respect for fundamental rights at work, including freedom to join a labour union," she said.

"We are engaging US businesses to make sure we are doing all we can to promote safe working conditions in Bangladesh."

Sherman, who led a delegation taking part in the second US-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue, also said the government of Bangladesh should take the lead in improving labour standards and workplace safety in garment factories.

A joint statement issued after the talks called for deeper bilateral relations in trade, development, investment and security.

The two countries also "discussed the status of labour law reform, registration of unions in the garment sector, fire and structural safety standards, and the prospects for a Better Work program in Bangladesh," the statement said.

They also discussed market access, including Bangladesh's request for duty-free or quota-free access to the US, and the on-going US review of a petition concerning Bangladesh's eligibility for trade privileges under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).