DHAKA: US Secretary of State John Kerry called for improved worker rights in Bangladesh following the collapse of a garment factory complex and other disasters that have claimed more than 1,200 lives.
During his first official visit to Bangladesh, Kerry met with labour and union leaders to discuss the impoverished nation's $28 billion garment industry, the world's second largest after China's.
Kerry said the United States supported Bangladesh's efforts to increase safety inspections of garment factories and close down substandard buildings following the disasters.
"But these steps are only part of the story. Enhancing worker safety must be paired with strengthening workers' rights," Kerry said in a speech in Dhaka.
The top US diplomat said this included allowing workers to form unions and affording them full collective bargaining rights.
"Bangladesh cannot truly meet the aspirations of its people and share prosperity if its workers are not safe and their rights are not ensured," he added.
The collapse of a garment factory complex in 2013 shone a global spotlight on appalling pay and conditions in Bangladesh's clothing industry, a mainstay of the economy.
The Rana Plaza collapse, one of the world's worst industrial disasters, killed at least 1,138 people, while a fire at another factory 12 months earlier killed 111 workers.
The disasters put pressure on the Bangladesh government and European and US clothing brands to improve pay and conditions at the factories that supply them.
The government also substantially increased salaries of workers.
But labour activists say they still face a lack of access to factories and that the government fails to register unions, which would give them the legal right to represent workers.
Kerry also held talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during his one-day visit to Bangladesh that focused on efforts to combat militants following a series of deadly attacks.