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Interview with Bangladesh Prime Minister about Working Conditions There; Obama to Travel to Mexico

Aired May 2, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Days of unimaginable horror in Bangladesh:


AMANPOUR (voice-over): -- the walls collapsed right on top of workers; bodies were everywhere, trapped under rubble. Hundreds of people were dead. Others were alive but missing limbs. This has been the scene since last week in Sava, Bangladesh, as a poorly constructed garment factory crumbled to the ground.

And today, with the death count at 437, bodies are still being recovered.


AMANPOUR: Tonight I talk one on one with the leader of that country, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, about how this can happen and what's being done to prevent it from happening again.

Authorities quickly found and arrested the building's owner, Sohel Rana (ph), and protesters have taken to the street, calling for his execution.

The 35-year old is a member of the ruling party, the Awami League, and there are deadly serious questions about just how he was allowed to build such a shaky structure. The building was ready to fall apart and everyone seemed to know it, because a local TV station took video of cracks in the walls the night before it collapsed.

Corruption is rampant in Bangladesh's garment industry. Bribes for permits are commonplace and too many elected politicians are also business owners.

This, though, may be a moment of truth for the industry that's worth $19 billion a year, thanks to the Western appetite for cheap fashion and very cheap labor.

Even though this government has raised the minimum wage, a Bangladesh garment worker is among the lowest paid in the world, earning as little as $37 a month.

Pope Francis even called that this week "slave labor." Thirty-seven dollars is about the cost of a sweater that's sold by one of those Western retail stores.

Even as the bodies are being buried and families are grieving, workers are taking to the street to demand better rights.

So where did Bangladesh go wrong?

And what is the West's responsibility?

I'll have an exclusive interview with the prime minister.

But first, a look at other stories we're covering tonight.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): President Obama travels south of the border, where there is more on his plate than just guns and drugs.

And rising from the ashes after all the horror in Bangladesh, we'll show you a reason to hope.


AMANPOUR: And we will, in a little bit. But first, my exclusive interview with the woman in charge in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.


AMANPOUR: Prime Minister, welcome to the program. And I obviously would like to start by offering sincere condolences for all the lives that were lost in that terrible tragedy.

SHEIKH HASINA, PRIME MINISTER, BANGLADESH: It is a very sad story, really. It's so painful. It's very unbearable.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister, I hear your pain. And yet I also hear you say -- and you've said -- that 90 percent of these factories in Bangladesh are not up to scratch. There are only 18 inspectors for more than 100,000 factories and these kinds of buildings.

How on Earth can you get a grip on this with that crazy ratio?

HASINA: Before this incident, we adopted the labor law. Already our cabinet passed the labor law. This law will go to the parliament and we'll pass this labor law. And also the labor policy, for the first time, Bangladesh adopted this labor policy. So we are very much concerned about it and we have already taken all these steps.

But you know, in anywhere in the world, any accident can take place. You cannot, you know, predict anything, even in many developed country, we can see. Recently there was a, you know, accident in a fertilizer industry in Texas. So accidents may take place.

But as because this is a goal (ph) industry, and as because they are, you know, buyers and also the investors that are coming, Bangladesh now is a place for good condition for the investment --


AMANPOUR: Whoa, Prime Minister --

HASINA: -- people are (inaudible) attracted and they're coming here and they are -- yes?

AMANPOUR: Well, Prime Minister, all of that is a threat right now --


AMANPOUR: I am allowing you, Prime Minister. But when you say we couldn't predict it, of course you could. This factory was shown on television the very night before. There were huge cracks in the walls. The owners said, oh, no; this is just about the plaster. And the very next day the factory collapsed.

So it could have been predicted.

Who does the blame fall on then?

HASINA: Yes, you are very correct. From local administration and the industrial police stopped working in this building and they removed all the labor from the building in the previous night.

But unfortunately, in the morning, the owner of the factory, they put pressure to the labor to enter. But industrial police and the law enforcement agency and the administration, they tried to stop them.

But they said that at night, it didn't collapse, so it is -- the condition is not that bad. (Inaudible) the labor. But even then, the industrial police, time and again, they told them that the labor should not work in this condition. But that moment, the accident took place.

So it is not true that the government hasn't taken any steps. We have taken steps and we tried to prevent them.

AMANPOUR: Surely, then, that needs to be regulated because here's the facts about this man who actually owns that company.

First of all, he was a top member of the ruling Awami party, which is your party. He was the head of the youth league of that.

HASINA: No, it is not true.

AMANPOUR: Well, that is what we're told. He was a youth leader --

HASINA: No, it is not true.

AMANPOUR: -- the youth wing -- you're saying it's not true?

HASINA: No, no, no. Wrong information --

AMANPOUR: All right.

HASINA: -- and I told you that in this building, there are five garment industries, five owners. They put pressure. They sent the labor.


HASINA: It's not the -- only the owner of the building. We arrested him; you know that. We arrested him. We arrested all the owners and the engineer and all the people. We have taken all necessary action. You must consider that ,yes, we have taken all the necessary steps and we arrested them.

AMANPOUR: What will happen to him?

HASINA: And the law will take its own course.


HASINA: We're not going to, you know, say to him, no. The criminal is criminal. They will get all, you know, we brought to go -- so they will get all the necessary action.

AMANPOUR: All right. So you --

HASINA: (Inaudible).

AMANPOUR: -- you say that he's a criminal and the law will --

HASINA: This is our promise to the people.

AMANPOUR: OK. I'm sure they'll be delighted to hear that.

HASINA: Exactly, yes. Of course, we -- already we arrested him. Look, within this short period of time, we have taken action, legal action. We arrested him. We find cases against them. The owners of the building and also owners of the factory -- so our government, we take all necessary steps.

AMANPOUR: The problem is the people have seen this and these promises before. And they don't actually say that they believe he will be fully punished. But of course, we'll wait to see how this case proceeds.

But I want to ask you about the endemic corruption in this regard, because all the reports say that he and his family basically got this building and this property by fairly nefarious means. Then because of their high and intense political connections, people just look the other way; officials don't dare confront him. He built more floors. And this was very unstable.

And furthermore, about 10 percent of members of parliament are direct owners of these kinds of factories and businesses.

Do you not have a rampant corruption problem in this regard?

HASINA: Look, you are going to other point.

AMANPOUR: No, I'm not, Prime Minister.

HASINA: The owner of this building, I told you, in 2005, they grabbed this land and built up this building. That time, the Awami was not in power. You should mind that. You should know that. And the businesses and factory owned by people, they are the business people. Any business person, if they commit any kind of crime, our government always takes action.

We are here to solve the people, not to put in the corrupt people, at least not our government. That I can ensure (sic) you.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, people will be very happy to hear that because, even last year, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh said the following:

"These developments could coalesce into a perfect storm that could threaten the Bangladesh brand in America."

I point this out because I want to know whether you're worried about retailers walking away from what is a huge industry for you.

Already Disney, which is one of the world's biggest, if not the world's biggest licenser, has said no more product from Bangladesh.

Canada is reconsidering its favorable trade status with you.

The E.U. is considering penalties and it is your largest trading partner.

This is now going to become a major economic crisis for you.

Do you agree?

AMANPOUR: About -- ?

HASINA: You are wrong. Even nobody knew. Listen, nobody knew that he was a labor leader. Nobody knew in this country that he was a labor leader.

He was killed or something happened. His dead body was recovered after four days by our law enforcement. It is his. It was our law enforcement, it is our police. Police recovered his dead body.

We didn't know that he was a union, you know, leader or anything. But we have (inaudible) for them.

Now the case is under investigation.

We feel our responsibility. So this blame game should not be there.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, you know what, you say we don't know about it, but the secretary of state of the United States of America comes to Bangladesh and asks your government to investigate. All right. Now you've talked about that and you say that you care for your people and your workers.

HASINA: It -- the investigation is going on.


HASINA: Listen, listen, the investigation is going on.

AMANPOUR: I guess I want to know whether you feel that Bangladesh, your government, other governments, should now be more careful about labor, should allow them to organize so these kinds of terrible things don't happen again.

And I want to ask you, in that regard, what your reaction is to what the pope himself said yesterday, publicly.

He said, "Not paying a just wage, not providing work, focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at making personal profit, that goes against God."

And he called the Bangladesh labor force "slave labor." That is the pope saying that.

What is your reaction to that?

HASINA: On behalf of our labor, I myself sometimes bargain with the owner so that our labor can get good salary and good condition.

And from our government, we have already passed one project to build up dormitories and hostels for our labor. We ensure there are health care and other facilities. So in our country, yes, it's a poor country. People come to work.

But our government -- I can't say about other governments. But I can tell you about my government. We are always in favor of labor and there better conditions should be ensured. And we are always considered that.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister, there does seem to be a tremendous lack of transparency. And I say this because CNN has not been allowed to come into Bangladesh to report all of this. And frankly, to see all the things that you're saying, it would be good if we were allowed to do that. And nor are other international news organizations either. Your authority --


HASINA: I'm sorry; CNN was not allowed to come to Bangladesh?

AMANPOUR: No. No, and I would ask you right now please to change that.

HASINA: No. What did you say?

AMANPOUR: I did say that. CNN is not allowed to come to cover this story --

HASINA: No. I'm sorry.

AMANPOUR: No, ma'am --

HASINA: What did you say?

AMANPOUR: I said CNN and other international organizations have not been allowed to come to Bangladesh as journalists to cover this story. They have put very draconian conditions on (inaudible) --

HASINA: No, it is not true.

AMANPOUR: It is true.

HASINA: No, no, no.

AMANPOUR: Yes, yes, it is true.

HASINA: No, no, Bangladesh is a free country.

AMANPOUR: Ah. We were told that.

HASINA: No, listen, in our country, we have private television.

No, tell me one thing. If it is prevented, then why I am talking to you?

AMANPOUR: No, because I'm not there.


HASINA: (Inaudible) to talk to you.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister, I'm not there.

HASINA: If we -- if we prevent you -- no, no. If we prevent CNN, then why I am talking to? (Inaudible). You were stopped; you don't publish it. If you mean that, that we didn't allow CNN to come to Bangladesh, then you should not publish my interview.

AMANPOUR: Well, I'll tell you what, our CNN authorities and our journalists have been told that they must sign waivers, sign papers -- and I'll read you what they've been told.

These officials say they have the right to review, confiscate (inaudible) --


HASINA: Listen any country, if you enter -- no, let us start -- no. I don't know about it. But yes, of course, there are some rules and regulations. Each and every country they have these rules and regulation. And everybody should follow that.

We lost our people. I do politics for these people, this labor, so each and every life is very precious to me. And I personally feel sorry for them, that who lost their nearest and dearest one. And they are my responsibility. So I have to look after them.

And we are doing it.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister, thank you very much for joining me.

HASINA: Thank you very much. (END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: And of course, we will pursue the prime minister's invitation to send our reporters and camera people to Bangladesh to cover this really vital story.

And just how much would it cost to bring Bangladesh's garment industry up to Western standards? According to the Workers' Rights Consortium, it would mean an investment of $3 billion over five years. That sounds like a lot, but it's only 10 cents more per garment.

And after we take a quick break, President Obama crosses the border to greet his new neighbor Mexico's new president, Enrico Pena Nieto. That's on tap when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

President Obama has just touched down in Mexico to meet the country's new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, and to focus on vital issues. Now that there is a live picture of Air Force One and the president getting ready to come down those steps. Drugs, guns and immigration are certainly on the agenda. But Mexico is also one of America's largest trading partners with almost $500 billion exchanged each year.

And with more than 11 million Mexicans living in the United States, the two countries are deeply intertwined.

Juan Carlos Lopez covers both countries for CNN en Espanol. I spoke with him moments ago from Mexico City.


AMANPOUR: Juan Carlos, thanks a lot for joining me from Mexico. This is very exciting; the president meeting his counterpart for the first time as president. Anybody really thinks about drugs and narcotraffic and violence, but Mexico has turned a page, hasn't it?

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's turned a page. The economy is doing very well and Mexico is looking towards Asia. And it's looking towards other parts of the world. And I think the United States is aware, the U.S. government is aware, President Obama is aware.

That's why his first visit after this new presidency for Latin America is in Mexico; he's been here four times, the same number of times he's been to France. And obviously all the issues you mentioned will come up.

But Mexico understands its importance. And I think it's making the U.S. understand that they can't take Mexico for granted.

AMANPOUR: So Juan Carlos, all that shouting in the background, is that for the president?

LOPEZ: No, no, it's not for the president. There's a pop star staying in the hotel. There's a great deal (sic) of teenagers waiting for him and yelling in front of the hotel.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, back to substantive issues. Why is this visit important for the United States? Obviously the President of the United States is looking at immigration reform back here. Is this going to help? How will that affect it?

LOPEZ: It's important, I think, what the White House is trying to say is that this a visit to highlight the importance of the economic ties between both countries and how thousands of jobs in the United States depend on the Mexico economy.

Why this argument? It's also being made by the Republicans, like Congressman Paul Ryan, who ran for the vice presidency last year, because they want to show immigration reform as a boost to the economy and a way to boost the American economy and create jobs.

So it would be an argument to counter those who oppose immigration reform and believe that immigration reform will only take jobs away from Americans.

AMANPOUR: And as that excitement for the pop star mounts, why is this important for Mexico's new president, this visit?

What is he trying to tell the world?

LOPEZ: Well, remember Mexico has just under 12 of government by the PAN Party, the conservative party, that had a very tight close relationship with the U.S., unprecedented access in intelligence in the war on drugs. And that has changed since Enrique Pena Nieto won the presidency.

There's a different relationship; the PRI, the party that was in power for seven decades before, losing it to the PAN has a different approach to the relationship, a more nationalistic approach. They don't feel as comfortable with this unprecedented access given to American investigators and American agencies.

So that's changing. The relationship is changing and I think that's going to be an important component of the visit of a meeting they will have for the first time alone with their cabinet members to discuss important issues for both the U.S. and Mexico.

AMANPOUR: Juan Carlos Lopez, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

LOPEZ: My pleasure.

AMANPOUR: And after a break, we'll return to Bangladesh. Earlier we showed you the horrific images from that recent building collapse. But there is another more hopeful face to that troubled country. And we'll bring it to you when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, just earlier we saw Bangladesh grieving in the wake of a tragic and preventable catastrophe. But imagine a world where Bangladesh is also a symbol of hope.

Back in 1979, the former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger famously labeled the new nation of Bangladesh "a basket case," wracked by storms, famine, a blighted economy and a dysfunctional government.

Today, it remains one of the most densely populated countries on Earth, 164 million people crammed into a nation the size of New York State. But family planning has made people's lives significantly better.

Unlike China, which enacted a one-child-per-family policy, Bangladesh provided free birth control and sent volunteers throughout the country dispensing contraceptives and counseling. And the results are startling.

In the 1970s, the average Bangladeshi woman bore six children. Today, the number has been cut in half, and so has the mortality rate for mothers; 95 percent of all children are being vaccinated. Bangladesh is still poor and overcrowded, but even in the face of unbearable tragedy, there are signs of hope and progress.

And that's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.