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

In December 2018 – January 2019, tens of thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh went on strike and staged mass protests over changes to the legal minimum wage (increased to half the amount the workers and trade unions had been calling for to cover living costs). The largely peaceful protests were met with a widespread and violent crackdown - one worker was shot dead by state security forces and many others were injured, while approximately 12,000 garment workers were dismissed from factories. Many of those dismissed remain unable to find alternative employment due to systematic blacklisting, while thousands of workers had trumped-up criminal charges of vandalism and looting filed against them by factories producing for major international brands.

Labour groups have called on brands 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 early 2019 we invited 28 brands listed as buyers on the websites of factories that had been named publicly as having dismissed workers and asked them to outline what concrete steps they were taking to remedy the situation. El Corte Ingles, Groupe Casino, H&M, ÏDGROUP, LPP S.A, Mango, New Look, Next, Peter Christian, Primark, 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. 

As a result of international pressure, 14 criminal cases against workers have been dismissed (the factories filed petitions to withdraw their charges, which were then dismissed in court). However, at least 19 cases are still underway with no sign yet of the buyers (where known) taking sufficient action to press for the dismissal of the charges. 

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Report
9 March 2020

US Senator releases report assessing labor rights & safety in Bangladesh’s garment factories

Author: United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff

"SEVEN YEARS AFTER RANA PLAZA, SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGES REMAIN", 5 March 2020

.... [The report] provides practical and timely recommendations for the U.S. Government, the government of Bangladesh, the Bangladesh national trade association, apparel brands, and other stakeholders to protect workers from abuse, ensure workers are empowered to defend their rights, and to safeguard and advance gains in factory safety.  

 The report includes the following key findings:

  • RMG workers, especially union leaders and organizers, have been subjected to abuse and harassment, with almost no punishment for perpetrators.  Female workers, who make up the majority of the RMG workforce, are disproportionately affected...
  • [T]he Accord and the Alliance—significantly improved safety conditions in approximately 2,300 RMG factories. However, there are reportedly thousands of unregistered RMG factories operating in Bangladesh that are not part of a safety inspection program...
  • .... [T]here is concern that the government of Bangladesh and local institutions will be unable to sustain the progress made by the Accord and Alliance...
  • Despite labor reforms, the environment for union organizers and activists has deteriorated in recent years...
  • Factory owners have not been held accountable for unfair labor practices, such as firing workers for their labor activism or for filing labor-related complaints.  
  • Western brands have effectively used their economic leverage to improve the safety culture in factories from which they source directly.  However, the low prices they pay for garments continue to incentivize factory owners to cut corners on safety and labor rights... 

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Article
13 January 2020

Bangladesh: Hundreds of garment workers still face retaliatory charges a year after wage protest crackdown

Author: Clean Clothes Campaign & International Labor Rights Forum

"A year after crackdown on wage protests in Bangladesh, hundreds of workers still face retaliatory charges", 13 January 2020

A year ago ... a minimal wage revision was announced that, together with massive repression, led [garment] workers to end... [ongoing] demonstrations [against poverty wages]... Thousands of workers... however, fac[ed] punishment for their peaceful protest through politically-motivated dismissals, blacklisting, and criminal charges...

[A]t least 33 cases [were] filed under Bangladesh’s penal code, cumulatively targeting thousands of garment workers. Almost all cases were filed by factories producing for major international brands...

[N]ational and international labour organizations... have reached out to apparel brands... urging them to require their suppliers to immediately withdraw all baseless criminal complaints against workers, reinstate the terminated or forcibly dismissed workers with full back pay, and to put an end to the blacklisting. Several brands, including H&M, Primark, and Next, have... engaged with their suppliers... but... each of these companies still has at least one trumped-up case that could not be confirmed as dismissed in their Bangladesh supply chain.

[A]ll 65 workers jailed... [have been] released and factories... [have] start[ed] withdrawing cases filed against striking workers... [F]ive criminal cases, which together had charged at least 949 workers, have been dropped by the court after the factories... asked for the dismissal of cases. Several other factories have already filed for dismissal...

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Item
29 October 2019

Bangladesh: Labour group tracks charges filed against dismissed workers by factories linked to apparel brands

Author: International Labor Rights Forum

"2019 Crackdown" n.d. 2019

... [We have listed in the] table below... major apparel brands linked to factories that filed unsubstantiated cases against workers who demonstrated for higher wages. As a result of campaign efforts, the charges filed by Doreen Apparels, Hameem Group, Hop Lun Apparels, Mahmud Fashions, and Shin Shin Apparels have now been dropped and several other factories have filed a petition to withdraw their charges, which could result in the dismissal of more cases in early 2020.  At least 20 other cases are still underway, however, with no sign yet of the buyers taking sufficient action to press for the dismissal of the charges...

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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...

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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.

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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