Updated at 2:12 p.m.
As the U.S. government decides whether to cut off trade benefits for Bangladesh in the wake of an April factory collapse that grabbed international headlines, the country has enlisted Foley Hoag for lobbying help in Washington.
Bangladesh has retained the firm to help it reach out to members of the Obama administration and Congress in an effort to further its "interest in promoting respect for worker rights in Bangladesh and promoting trade between Bangladesh and the United States," according to Foreign Agents Registration Act documents the firm filed last week with the U.S. Justice Department.
Foley Hoag partner Gare Smith, who founded the firm's corporate social responsibility practice, is handling the account. He will receive $30,000 for his work during the next 12 months. Neither Smith nor a representative of the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington was immediately available for comment.
Bangladesh isn't "taking steps to afford to workers in Bangladesh internationally recognized worker rights, specifically the right of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively," according to a Federal Register notice that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative posted in January. A few months later, a garment factory near Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,000 people, according to news reports. It was the deadliest industrial disaster in Bangladesh.
Lewis Karesh, assistant U.S. trade representative for labor, said in written remarks prepared for a June 6 Senate hearing that the collapse showed "the deadly implications of the failure to address the underlying issues of worker safety and worker rights, especially in the garment sector."
As part of his lobbying for the country, Smith will meet with officials at the U.S. Labor Department, U.S. State Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, in addition to members of Congress and their staffers. Discussions will focus on "how best to promote respect for worker rights," as well as securing quota-free and duty-free access to the United States for Bangladesh products and keeping benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences trade program, DOJ records show.
Foley Hoag isn't a stranger to Bangladesh. The firm last year helped the country win a dispute in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea over maritime boundaries with neighbor Myanmar. The victory allowed Bangladesh to exploit the Bay of Bengal and the continental shelf for oil and gas resources.