Bangladesh: Brands respond to mass dismissals of garment workers following minimum wage protests

A widespread crackdown in Bangladesh has seen over 12,000 garment workers dismissed from factories following protests in December 2018 and January 2019 over minimum wage changes. The workers were dismissed despite assurances from the government and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association that they would not face reprisal for their participation in the protests.

Several of the dismissed workers have had charges brought against them linked to allegations - described by rights groups as "broad and vague" - of vandalism and looting. Fearing arrest, many more workers have gone into hiding while others are reportedly being pressured to sign documents stating they accept responsibility for the protests and damage to the factories in return for receiving one month's notice and pay owed to them in back wages. 

Human rights groups and trade unions have called for the sacked workers to be reinstated and for the charges against those arrested to be dropped. A report by Workers Rights Consoritum found the mass dismissals, violence and arrests to be 'unlawful' and called on brands sourcing from Bangladesh to: withdraw criminal complaints filed in relation to the protests; reinstate and provide back wages to all workers terminated or forced to resign; and commit to a nondiscriminatory hiring process to end the blacklisting of workers based on their involvement in the protests.

In March 2019, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre reached out to companies listed as buyers on the websites of factories that have been named publicly as having dismissed workers and asked them to outline what concrete steps they are taking to remedy the situation. El Corte Ingles, Groupe Casino, H&M, ÏDGROUP, LPP S.A, Mango, New Look, Next, Peter Christian, Tesco, Tom Tailor and Zeeman responded. Their responses are included below. 

Aditya Birla, Adler, Blackberrys, Chums, Galeria Kaufhof, Groupe Beaumanoir, NewYorker, Piazza Italspirits, Raymond, Saks Fifth Avenue, Semir, Shoeby, US Polo Assn. and Zalando did not respond. 

In April 2019, we invited Primark to respond after a campaign by Labour Behind the Label called on Primark to protect workers dismissed by its suppliers and those facing charges. Primark responded that it was working to conduct in-depth investigations into its supplier factories where there are allegations that workers' contracts had been terminated and had temporarily suspended orders during this time. Its full response is included below. Labour Behind the Label submitted a rejoinder, stating that Primark and other brands sourcing from Bangladesh were not doing enough to proactively assess and investigate all their suppliers.

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Article
7 August 2019

Bangladesh: Primark suspends orders from garment factories during investigations into mass dismissals following wage protests

Author: Refayet Ullah Mirdha, The Daily Star

"Primark cuts ties with some factories", 7 August 2019

...Primark has suspended business ties with some garment factories in Bangladesh, which had terminated 427 workers for their alleged involvement in agitations during December 2018 and January 2019 demanding a wage hike.

“We have been working hard...to ensure that our products are made with great care and respect for workers’ rights,” Primark said..."This is why we have been conducting in-depth investigations into a small number of our suppliers’ factories in Bangladesh where there were allegations that workers’ contracts had been terminated.” ...

...The key issues are that Primark wants withdrawal of cases filed against the workers and clearing all legal dues, explained a senior official of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA)...

...Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation said Primark’s move would not have any big impact on Bangladesh’s garment business. Primark may place the withdrawn work orders to other local garment factories, meaning they were not shifting the orders to other countries, she said...

Read the full post here

NGO rejoinder
21 May 2019

Bangladesh: NGO says Primark & other brands not doing enough over garment worker repression, revealing need for mandatory due diligence

Author: Labour Behind the Label

Labour Behind the Label... asked brands to:

  • require suppliers to immediately withdraw all criminal complaints they have filed related to the protests; 

  • require suppliers to reinstate the workers they have fired to the same level of seniority, with full back pay; and,

  • express concern about this wave of repression to the government...

[O]ut of these only one (Next) has so far provided... details on how they have demanded the reinstatement of dismissed workers or failing that compensation, as well as asking suppliers to withdraw any criminal charges made...

... some UK brands have so far only checked where and when they have been given specific factory names. We believe that brands... should be pro-actively and concretely assessing and investigating all their suppliers... To our knowledge none of the brands have contacted the Bangladesh government on this matter...

We are publicly tracking how connected brands are responding to the crackdown and also launched a petition after our information suggested that 427 workers from Primark suppliers in Bangladesh lost their jobs after taking part in the largely peaceful protests. 382 Primark workers are now reportedly facing false legal charges... Primark have not publicly disputed the arrests and the dismissals and are seemingly only now conducting an investigation.

This episode shines a worrying light on the reality of UK brands... activities and commitments to improving worker rights in their supply chain. Once again, it suggests that the time has now come for mandatory legislated due diligence as opposed to a reliance on brand led voluntary principles.

Download the full document here

Company response
30 April 2019

Primark's response

Author: Primark

Thank you for providing us with an opportunity to update you on our actions in Bangladesh following the worker protests in December 2018. We recognize the rights of workers to organize and to protest peacefully and were extremely disappointed that this right was not respected in some cases...

Our actions

· Our team on the ground has been working in partnership with Impactt Ltd, an independent ethical trade consultancy, to conduct in-depth investigations into a small number of our suppliers’ factories where there are allegations that workers’ contracts had been terminated.

· We have suspended these suppliers’ factories while the investigations are ongoing, meaning no new orders can be placed.

· If our investigations find that workers’ contracts were terminated inappropriately, we will work with factories to ensure the appropriate remediation programmes are put in place, which includes remuneration of any legally owed compensation.

· Once are investigations are concluded in full, we will discuss our findings with the appropriate stakeholders at an industry-wide level, as we believe collaboration with industry partners is necessary to bring about industry-wide change...

Download the full document here

Item
24 April 2019

Campaign calls on Primark to protect workers in Bangladesh

Author: Labour Behind the Label

"Tell Primark to stop the fear and support worker safety and rights", April 2019

427 workers from Primark suppliers in Bangladesh lost their jobs after taking part in largely peaceful protests to dispute the sub-poverty minimum wage which is being paid in Bangladesh.  382 are now facing false charges bought by factory owners, and are unable to find other jobs due to systematic blacklistingYet fast-fashion giant Primark has made no indication that it is willing to act to protect workers in Bangladesh...

Primark have not publicly disputed the arrests and the dismissals, or shown any indication that they are demanding that suppliers reinstate workers and pay compensation...

Primark need to prioritise workers’ rights and the need for safe factories, and must act. Sign the petition to call on them to stop the repression at their suppliers and publicly support factory safety.

Read the full post here

Report
23 April 2019

Bangladesh: Report finds mass firings, violence & arrests following minimum wage protests 'unlawful'

Author: Workers Rights Consortium

"Banning Hope: Bangladesh Garment Workers Seeking a Dollar an Hour Face Mass Firings, Violence, and False Arrests", April 2019

The government and apparel factory owners in Bangladesh have carried out a brutal crackdown on garment workers in retaliation for... protests against the country’s extremely low minimum wage... This report documents – via interviews with more than a hundred workers and extensive documentary research – that:

• The wage protests in December of 2018 were largely peaceful;

• The response by government security forces was characterized by indiscriminate use of physical force...

• Arrests of, and criminal charges against, 65 workers were driven by demonstrably baseless complaints from managers of 30 factories, producing for a long list of well-known brands and retailers;

• Some workers were charged based on alleged acts that took place miles away from their actual workplaces and in which the workers cannot possibly have taken part;

• The mass firings, of as many as 11,600 workers, did not have valid grounds under the country’s labor law...

• Rather than terminating individual workers for documented violations... factory managers fired workers en masse, with no effort to credibly demonstrate cause, as a means of collective punishment of workers for their decision to participate in protests...

Read the full post here

Download the full document here

Company response
8 April 2019

Groupe Casino's response

Author: Groupe Casino

... After review, we do inform you that the "East West Group" and "Abonti Color Tex factories" aren't suppliers of the Casino group. As regards factory "Garib&Garib Company Limited", the Casino group maintains business relationships with the company named "Garib&Garib Company Limited Unit 2" and not "Garib&Garib Company Limited Unit 1".

Nevertheless, even if Casino group is not working with "Garib&Garib Company Limited Unit 1", we immediately asked our Social Compliance Coordinator based in Dhaka to vist the "Garib&Garib Company Limited" in order to check the situation. He visited the both companies on the 29 March 2019... reviewed some attendance records, talked to the factory management and workers, and concluded that "Garib&Garib Company Limited Unit 2" was not involved in the facts mentioned in the article...

The full response is attached.

Download the full document here

Company response
8 April 2019

Mango's response

Author: Mango

Mango always gives the priority of worker well-being in the factories and with this aim Mango CSR department continuously monitor the compliance on Mango Code of Conduct through third party audits...

Mango believes in peaceful dialogue between factory workers and factory owners to resolve any dispute. As a signatory of the Transition Accord in Bangladesh we are conscious of the situation within the sector in this country... Mango will continue being alert about the matter and working to protect workers’ rights and fight against any measure or situation which prevent them from those. 

The full response is attached.

Download the full document here

Company response
8 April 2019

Zeeman's response

Author: Zeeman

At this moment we are further investigating this matter closely with our supplier, our local agency and other brands sourcing from this supplier. We can not accept violations of workers’ rights, as clearly described in our Code of Conduct.

Company response
4 April 2019

Next's response

Author: Next

We have established that NEXT is engaged with all the factories you have advised, except Metro Garments.

We will request from each factory to confirm or deny the dismissal or redundancy issue as raised and also comment on the adequacy of any action that has been taken.

This would include the transparency of all the confirmation of the names of impacted workers, the reason for dismissal, any redundancy compensation and / or re- employment.

This information would be available to discuss with you by the end of next week 12th April.

Company response
1 April 2019

ÏDGROUP's response

Author: ÏDGROUP

...  we will not tolerate... abuse of human rights within our supply chains, and we will take seriously any allegations that Human Rights are not properly respected.

Concerning the incidents you’re describing, ÏDGROUP condemns unfair dismissals related to protests over wage increases.

We would like to point out, however, that the “Mapped in Bangladesh” platform which prompted you to ask us about this issue has published false information about ÏDGROUP. We don’t work, or don’t work anymore, with the 3 factories having quoted us among their customers:

• Abanti factory, since the winter of 2018 collection,

• Garib & Garib since March 2017

• East West Group factory since August 2016.

We are currently working with the organization behind this platform (BRAC University and BRAC) to correct the false information. We share your point of view about the importance of transparent information about the factories we work with...

Download the full document here