Bangladesh: Union alleges 700+ garment workers dismissed from factory producing for C&A, H&M & Benetton were targeted for union activities; Incl. co. responses

Photo credit: Tareq Salahuddin CC BY 2.0

In August 2019, 701 garment workers at SF Denim Apparels (SF Denim) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, were fired en masse after the factory - which produces for  Benetton, C&A and H&M - cited a shortage of orders from international brands.

According to local trade union Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF), the affected workers were targeted due to their involvement in union activities following consistent efforts by the factory to obstruct efforts to organise and form a union. Among the dismissed garment workers, 30 are pregnant. SGSF has called for maternity benefits to be paid and for all the dismissed workers to be reinstated.

SF Denim has rejected the allegation of targeting workers for involvement with a trade union and said it fired the workers in accordance with the law.

In September 2019, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Benetton, C&A and H&M to respond to the mass dismissal of garment workers at SF Denim and claims that workers were targeted as a result of their union engagement. In its response, Benetton said its most recent CSR audit of SF Denim reported no issues in terms of worker rights. It said it had been informed by SF Denim via email that the dismissals were made due to a shortage of orders from international brands and were conducted in accordance with the law, but Benetton will continue to monitor the issue. C&A said it is in contact with SF Denim and the workers to understand the causes of the dismissals. H&M said it is in dialogue with local partners through its National Monitoring Committee in Bangladesh, which includes trade union representatives affiliated with IndustriALL. It confirmed that maternity benefits as well as termination benefits have been paid, but it is still investigating the specifics of the case.

The full responses are included below. 

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Company response
9 September 2019

C&A's response

Author: C&A

... For C&A, securing fair recruitment, decent work and full respect of labour rights is one of our top priorities as a business...

C&A has been informed about the dismissal of 701 workers by SF Denim Apparels. C&A requires from its suppliers to comply with national and other applicable laws at all times, including the legal requirements in case of termination of workers’ contracts. Our teams have been in touch with the supplier and the workers to understand the causes of the dismissals. 

As a standard business practice, C&A cannot publicly comment further on a situation that concerns ongoing court cases between a supplier’s factory and its employees...

[The full response is attached]

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Company response
9 September 2019

H&M's response

Author: H&M

Freedom of association is core to our social sustainability work globally as well as locally in Bangladesh. We work to strengthen freedom of association through the Global Framework Agreement with IndustriALL and the Swedish trade union IF Metall, created with the purpose to strengthen industrial relations.  Hence, we always take incidents of lay-offs of workers very seriously and investigate the reasons behind. In this case, we are in dialogue with local partners through our National Monitoring Committee in Bangladesh which consists of H&M Group colleagues and trade union representatives that are affiliated with IndustriALL. We have confirmed that the maternity benefits as well as termination benefits have been paid. We are still investigating the specifics of this incident in dialogue with IndustriALL.

Company response
4 September 2019

Benetton's response

Author: Benetton Group

... As regards the factory SF Denim Apparels ltd, we did a CSR audit on August 1st, 2019 and it scored 94/100, not reporting any problem in terms of workers rights...

... we enquired the specific fact to the factory management. They informed us that, due to the extreme shortage of order from different International customers for the next months... they unfortunately have to reduce the number of factory’s workers. This factory’s workers reduction, as per SF Denim clarification email, has been done in respect and following the country labor law under the supervision of BGMEA.

Despite the global economic contraction, Benetton Group decided to keep the order quantities placed in SF Denim across the past two years stable or with a little increase. This has been done with the intention to help in this situation.

We will keep monitoring this specific issue to assure the correct implementation of the Benetton Code of Conduct requirements in the respect of local labor law...

[The full response is attached]

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1 September 2019

Bangladesh: SF Denim Apparels claims 701 garment workers were dismissed in accordance with the law

Author: New Age

"700 workers terminated at SF Denim factory", 1 September 2019

SF Denim Apparels, a readymade garment company in Dhaka, has terminated more than 700 of its workers without any prior notice and half of them were fired for their alleged involvement with formation of a trade union in the factory...

...[IndustriALL] said that at least half of the terminated workers were fired as they wanted to form a trade union under the leadership of IndustriALL affiliated Sammilita Garments Sramik Federation.

Factory authorities, however, rejected the allegation of terminating workers for involvement with trade union.

‘We have terminated workers as per the laws. You can contact with Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association as the trade body is fully aware about the issue,’ Golam Mostafa, one of the directors of SF Denim Apparels told New Age...  

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29 August 2019

Bangladesh: Union calls for reinstatement of 701 dismissed garment workers after mass layoffs allegedly linked to trade union involvement

Author: IndustriALL

"Bangladesh: 701 garment workers fired after Eid", 29 August 2019

701 workers have been laid off without any prior information at SF Denim Apparels in Dhaka, Bangladesh...

As workers returned to the factory after Eid vacation on 18 August, SF Denim Apparels cited ‘work order shortage’...

At least half of the 701 workers... wanted to form a trade union under the leadership of IndustriALL affiliate Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF).

According to unions, SF Denim Apparels has consistently been obstructing efforts to organize and form a union.

In response to efforts to form a union in 2018 the company fired more than a hundred workers. 38 of the workers launched court cases against the employer, which are still ongoing... [I]n early August... five workers involved in union organizing were laid off.

Nazma Akter, IndustriALL Executive Committee member and SGSF president says:

“We are deeply concerned over the mass layoffs; the workers are obviously targeted over their involvement in union activities. To make matters worse, more than 30 of the terminated workers are pregnant and will now not receive any maternity benefits. We demand that SF Denim Apparels reinstate all the fired workers.”

The union is in contact with the brands that source from SF Denim, like C&A, H&M and Benetton, and they are working together to resolve the situation.

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