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Crackdown on garment workers in Bangladesh must stop

5 January, 2017IndustriALL Global Union is calling for an immediate end to the persecution of garment workers, trade union leaders and worker activists in Bangladesh in light of a sinister crackdown by government authorities. 

In an alarming step backwards for the garment industry in Bangladesh, police have detained at least 11 union leaders and workers’ rights advocates over the past two weeks under the Special Powers Act 1974, an emergency introduced in wartime. The eleven detained include seven members of three IndustriALL trade union affiliates in Bangladesh – the BGIWF, SBGWF and BIGUF. 

Meanwhile, more than 1,600 workers have been suspended and police have filed cases against 600 workers and trade union leaders.

The clampdown by authorities follows strikes in the Ashulia district of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on 12 December by workers demanding an increase in the minimum wage from US$68 to US$190 per month. 

Factory owners have taken a strong stand not to increase wages – even though they are some of the lowest in the world. At the same time, the cost of housing, basic commodities and Medicare is spiraling.

In retaliation for the strikes, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) suspended production at 59 factories and owners arbitrarily suspended well over 1,600 workers.

Two factories affected by the strikes, Windy Apparels Ltd and Fountain Garments Ltd have filed criminal complaints against 239 workers, while the Hemeem Group is reported to be filing complaints against as many as 1,000 workers.

IndustriALL sources say many garment workers are now too scared to go back to work. Some workers have even returned to the countryside to escape police persecution. Most of the local offices of IndustriALL affiliates in Ashulia have shut down or been vandalized.

IndustriALL’s Council of trade unions in Bangladesh has called for the immediate release of all those in custody and that all police cases against workers and trade union leaders are dropped. The Council has also requested that the International Labour Organization broker a meeting with the BGMEA.

IndustriALL joined other unions and campaigning groups in writing a joint letter to brands sourcing from factories in Bangladesh, urging them to contact the government of Bangladesh to release the detained labour leaders, drop charges and cease harassment of trade union leaders and workers’ rights activists.

Bangladesh has a dire history of targeting independent trade unions and worker activists, including beatings, torture and death threats. In 2012, activist Aminul Islam was found brutally murdered. Human Rights Watch and other observers strongly suspect the involvement of Bangladesh security forces in his death.

IndustriALL general secretary, Valter Sanches, said:

The crackdown on trade unionists and workers in the Bangladesh garment industry cannot continue. IndustriALL demands that the government immediately release the detained trade union leaders and activists, and drops the criminal cases against hundreds of garment workers. Government repression will not silence them or us. Garment workers have a fundamental right to organize and must be paid a living wage. The government risks losing it’s precious garment industry if cannot treat its workers humanely.