US vows help to Bangladesh after factory disaster

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that the United States (US) wanted to work with Bangladesh on workers' rights and safety in the wake of the deadly factory collapse, and offered help after a killer storm.

Welcoming his Bangladeshi counterpart Dipu Moni to Washington for talks, the top US diplomat said "our hearts go out to the families" of the 1,127 people killed when a garment factory complex crumbled on April 24.

"We hope that this will be able to help all of us cooperate on the issue of labor and labor standards and workers and workers' rights," Mr Kerry told Mr Moni after Bangladesh's worst industrial accident.

Bangladesh is the world's second-biggest apparel maker and the US$20 billion (S$25 billion) industry accounts for up to 80 per cent of annual exports.

But the factory collapse highlighted the dangerous conditions and low wages most workers endure, amid a voracious appetite in the West for cheap clothes.

Bangladesh's top garment factories make clothing for a string of major US retailers including the giant Walmart, as well as many other high street fashion stores such as Sweden's H&M.

Mr Kerry promised the US had "a number of initiatives" it wanted to share with Bangladesh.

He also voiced "gratitude" that Bangladesh had been spared the worst of Cyclone Mahasen, which killed 17 people as it lashed the southern coast, destroying tens of thousands of homes.

"We are prepared to be as helpful as we can in any way that we can in order to relieve the suffering of people," Mr Kerry said.

Mr Moni invited Mr Kerry to visit Bangladesh soon and said that the "relationship is at its best now", adding that Dhaka was looking forward to even greater cooperation in the future.