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Bangladesh: union strength and brand pressure

12 February, 2015Being a union leader in Bangladesh is often challenging. For representatives of IndustriALL affiliate BIGUF at the Global Garments factory in Dhaka, it has also meant persecution and for some even violent attacks. 

The Azim Group is one of Bangladesh's most important and influential employers. They have consistently refused to recognize trade unions at the Global Garments factory.

Union representatives at the factory are no strangers to harassment, false charges and even physical violence. A CCTV (close circuit TV) recording from November 2014 shows two separate instances where female union leaders were beaten up by thugs.

Police did nothing about the violent attacks. In an effort to put a stop to the harassment and anti-union behaviour, IndustriALL Global Union American affiliate Workers United took action and approached the US brands sourcing from the factory.

After discussions the brands held off placing new orders or resuming production until Azim recognized the union in the workplace.

In December, an agreement was reached where the trade union has the right to represent workers in the factory. It states that factory management and union officers are “working together with good faith and into a friendly environment”. A further agreement was reached at the beginning of this month.

Jeff Hermanson from Workers United says:

“This has been a long and complex struggle, and it is far from finished. By our collective action we have won a temporary truce and hopefully helped save the GGLWU and GTLWU from destruction.”

The brands have also committed to establishing a bipartite commission with Workers United and the Solidarity Center to visit the Azim factories regularly to ensure the agreements are implemented and to help encourage improved labour relations.

IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Monika Kemperle says that the Azim case is the latest in a growing number of cases of harassment against unions.

These systematic attacks against unions are increasingly violent and aimed at destroying factory level unions. Together with a growing number of arbitrary rejections of applications to register a union, they mark a changing attitude of employers and government who are trying to slow the steady unionization of garment workers following the collapse of Rana Plaza.

Attacking freedom of association is unacceptable and IndustriALL will continue to support the courageous fight of union representatives fighting for a better workplace.

Jeff Hermanson concludes:

“Hopefully this resolution may have a broad impact and demonstrate that the use of violence against trade unionists will not be successful. Instead, it will cause the employers who use violence to suffer great damage to their reputation and face the possible destruction of their business.”