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 and its response is included below. 

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Company response
29 March 2019

H&M's response

Author: H&M

The garment workers’ frustrations clearly highlight the need for strengthened industrial relations in the country. When workers are listened to, when the parties in the labour market can engage in respectful negotiation and peaceful dispute resolution, and when the minimum wage level is revised regularly, that is when situations such as this one can be resolved long-term. 

We are aware of 4 of our suppliers’ factories that have laid off employees due to the unrest. Two of these factories have filed legal cases, involving around 50 workers in total, claiming that they were involved in vandalism during the unrest. Until now none of the workers of these factories were arrested or called for any inquiry. Following a discussion with the suppliers, they agreed not to follow up on the cases to have them thrown out. 

Each supplier has an MoU which has been signed by factory management and local federations (affiliated with IndustriAll) agreeing on settlement benefits.

H&M group has been in dialogue with the local unions and the National Monitoring Committee to monitor and evaluate the situation, where the dispute so far is being managed locally by the parties.  We are monitoring the situation and have made sure that the documents and agreements that have been signed are implemented by factory management and that there is a clear resolution process in place in the factories. This issue remains on our agenda and we are in contact with the suppliers, industry association, trade unions and other buyers.

Company response
29 March 2019

LPP Spółka Akcyjna's response

Author: LPP Spółka Akcyjna

While developing our business, we are becoming the organisation that  is more and more mature and conscious. We also want  to be a reliable and responsible partner for those around us. In 2017, LPP adopted the Sustainable Development Strategy for the years 2017-2019, which makes it clear that the control of the supply chain and care for the rights of the staff of LPP and our suppliers are our key priorities. That is why we have our auditors and in-house specialist (38 people) monitoring situation in Bangladesh every day.  Additionally, we were concerned about strikes that took place since the end of last year and were pleased with both decisions of the government on wage increases.

With our best knowledge at the day 29/03/2019 none of our suppliers’ workers were dismissed or discriminate in relation to previous strikes. We are still closely monitoring the situation in Bangladesh.

Company response
29 March 2019

Peter Christian's response

Author: Peter Christian

... We have been working with this factory for over 25 years... We visit the factory one or two times each year and we are impressed by the atmosphere on the factory floor and the working conditions of the employees. These strikes have occurred since our last visit so we contacted the management for their perspective on the troubles and I enclose their response:

...From our side, we have made an Tripartite agreement on 7th February 2019 with the federation alongside with BGMEA, Department of Labor representative on how to resolve and proceed with the payment structure of the workers who are outside the factory. Then , we fixed dates and booths for workers  and each of them were paid and signed that they have received the money and that they are officially released from the factory. All workers have been given (except for very few who were outside the city or at their village ). About the union also we have made agreement and the union we cannot remove or don’t have the right but , they have come to an agreement on how they will work...

...Over all, we have made proper plan on how to deal with this and discussed and made agreements before taking any steps... All due salary was paid in full. All benefits as per agreement have been paid in full and signed and closed... we are focusing on developing better communication with the workers and training our staffs to create better work environment... Instead of saying how union and illegal acts since 2012 or the amount of loss has generated for us and specially to the buyers, suddenly when we decide to take action that is when we are bad people. I can assure you, we have not done anything unethical. Situation have been as such that unless we take that step the very business was on the verge of collapsing...

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Company response
29 March 2019

Tesco's response

Author: Tesco

We are absolutely committed to the rights of all workers to freedom of association, and freedom from intimidation, along with all other labour rights. We have not received any specific allegations regarding dismissed individuals at any of our supplier partners’ factories in recent weeks. But five of the factories we work with did appear in a public list of those linked to dismissals. We have therefore looked carefully and seriously into these issues with each factory.

Each of these factories have denied that they have targeted or unfairly dismissed any workers. They have told us that all workers that have left in recent weeks (which has been a period of significant movement of workers across the garment industry) have done so voluntarily and been paid appropriately. One of our suppliers confirmed that they had recently had to make some lay-offs at their factory, but that this was done with the participation of the union and the industry body and that all workers received their legally due compensation.

We remain committed to looking into any specific allegations... We have been in touch separately with campaigning NGOs with links to Bangladeshi campaigners and unions and asked them to share any specific cases of workers within our suppliers’ factories who claim they have been unfairly dismissed (using a trusted independent party for confidentiality, if needed). We will investigate any such cases and take action if any unfair or illegal practice has taken place...

Download the full document here

Company response
28 March 2019

New Look's response

Author: New Look

The respect of freedom of association is a key part of our ethical aims. We take issues of this nature seriously and we are continuing to monitor the situation closely through our suppliers on the ground. 

We advocate for transparency in our supply chain. Please do refer to our global factory list, published on our website should you wish to find our Bangladeshi sites: https://www.newlookgroup.com/sustainability/factory-list

Company response
26 March 2019

Tom Tailor's response

Author: Tom Tailor

Thanks for your interest in TOM TAILORs sustainability activities. As a global acting company TOM TAILOR GROUP takes its responsibility regarding people, animal welfare and environment seriously. Therefore we are member of the amfori Business Social Compliance Initiative to drive the improvements of labor and social conditions forward. The Code of Conduct contains all important and relevant standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and UN Conventions. Freedom of Association and Collective bargaining as well as the ban of child labor and a decent living wage are part of the principles this Code of Conduct.

We would like to take the opportunity today to give you an update on the measures that have already been initiated. We worked very closely with the supplier and we were informed that the case is already closed by government, workers union federation and owner. As Abanti is not our own company, our sphere of influence is limited though but we will continue to follow up on the wage implementation.

Company non-response
25 March 2019

Aditya Birla Group did not respond

Author: Aditya Birla Group

Company non-response
25 March 2019

Adler Modemärkte AG did not respond

Author: Adler Modemärkte AG

Company non-response
25 March 2019

Blackberrys did not respond

Author: Blackberrys

Company non-response
25 March 2019

Chums did not respond

Author: Chums