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Bangladesh: Rights' groups urge brands to take action to free detained workers, companies respond

On December 11, 2016, workers at the Windy Apparel factory went on a strike following news of death of one of its employees after managers refused her repeated requests for time off. The factory supplies a number of well know high street brands including H&M, Inditex (known for the brand Zara), Esprit, Tesco, Arcadia, S Oliver, and Debenhams. The un-unionised workers at the factory approached managers seeking a tripling of minimum wages, set three years ago at $67 per month, along with a list of 15 other demands. After they were rebuffed, the workers walked out and in subsequent days employees from about 20 other factories in the area joined in. Trade union activists and leaders working in Ashulia say that the walk out by Windy workers and the subsequent stoppages at other factories took them by surprise. The BGMEA announced they would close 55 Ashulia-based factories under a provision of the Bangladesh labour law which allows an employer to close a factory “in the event of an illegal strike”. Whilst employers said that this was to stop vandalism, trade unionists saw this as a way to break the strike and stop engaging with the workers’ grievances. On the 21st December seven local labor leaders were detained following a meeting convened by the Industrial police. The labour leaders and activist are still in jails. The labour rights' groups calls upon brands to urge the factories in their supply chain to withdraw all criminal complaints related to the protests in Ashulia, and reinstate them. 

Twenty major international apparel retailers have issued a statement warning Prime Minister Hasina that industrial unrest in Bangladesh may damage the country’s reputation as a reliable sourcing market. They called on the government to form a new wage board for the garment workers. At the same time, the giant retailers said they “do not condone illegal activities by workers, labor groups.”

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited C&A, H&M, Gap, VF Corp and Inditex to respond to a joint letter by NGOs regarding this situation, and particularly to these two questions:

1. Has the company required the factories in their supply chain to withdraw all criminal complaints related to the protests in Ashulia?

2. Has the company required their supply chains to reinstate all factory workers suspended or fired related to the Ashulia protests?

Responses from C&A, Gap, H&M & Inditex included below, we will update this page with future responses.

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Article
7 February 2017

Petition: Free jailed labour activists in Bangladesh

Author: International Labor Rights forum

Please sin the petition to call on brands whose clothes are made at the factories behind the complaints to take immediate action for the withdrawal of the falsified complaints and the release of the jailed activists and workers! This petition will be delivered to H&M, Gap Inc (owns Banana Republic and Old Navy), Inditex (owns Zara and Bershka), and VF (owns 30 brands including North Face, Jansport, and Lee), which source from the factories pressing the complaints.

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Article
4 February 2017

Crackdown on Bangladeshi Garment Workers Following Wildcat Strikes

Author: Anjali Kamat, Investigative Fund

At least 24 garment workers and labor leaders in Bangladesh remain in police custody without bail today, more than a month after being arrested during a spontaneous wave of walkouts by thousands of workers at factories in the industrial hub of Ashulia...Their primary demand was for an increase in the monthly minimum wage of $67 to roughly $200...the eight factories that filed criminal complaints, according to data compiled by Workers Rights Consortium, make clothing for dozens of global brands...Six of the eight factories are suppliers for H&M, which has a global framework agreement with the unions IndustriALL and IF Metall to supportfactory-level unions within its supply chains....H&M press officer Ulrika Isacsson said they were in “close dialogue with several stakeholders, including suppliers” and referred to a joint letter they sent to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh last month, along with 20 other brands, urging the government to protect workers’ rights, which gave, she said, “special attention to the legitimate representatives of the workers who were arrested.” She added, “We take a positive view on wage increases and we are prepared to pay the necessary prices.”

 

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Article
4 February 2017

How Repressive Law Enforcement Crushed Minimum Wage Protests in Bangladesh’s Garment Sector

Author: David Bergman & Muktadir Rashid, Wire

On December 23, 2016, a police officer phoned television and print journalist Nazmul Huda, telling him to come later that day to a press conference concerning the ongoing worker disputes in garment factories in Ashulia, an area on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka...When Huda arrived at Ashulia police station that evening, there was no press conference. Instead, officers bundled him into a vehicle, blindfolded him and then beat him...Huda – who spent one month in jail before receiving bail last week – is one of at least 21 people who have been arrested since the end of December 2016 as part of the Bangladesh government’s successful crushing of an apparently spontaneous movement of garment workers seeking an increased minimum wage and improved working conditions...The other 20 people arrested comprise trade union leaders, activists and organisers – many of whose detentions, like that of Huda, were demonstrably illegal, politicised or without merit, with threats of ‘crossfire’ appearing to be part and parcel of police interrogation tactics.

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Article
11 January 2017

Accord statement on the Detention and Interrogation of Labor Leaders in Bangladesh

Author: Accord on Fire & Building Safety in Bangladesh

Letter by the Steering Committee members of the Accord on Fire & Building Safety in Bangladesh to the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The Accord is deeply concerned by the Government’s response to the recent RMG industry unrest and wage protests in Ashulia, including recent detentions and termination from employment of individuals with union affiliation and who promote workers’ rights. The Accord requests the Office of the Prime Minister to take immediate action to ensure that RMG workers’ rights are protected and that any associated cases of unjust detention, employment termination, and/or fundamental rights violations be urgently rectified consistent with the law and ILO Conventions.

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Article
8 January 2017

Bangladesh: Police and fear stalk the streets of Dhaka as clothes workers fight for more than £54 a month

Author: Michael Safi, Guardian [UK]

Ashulia’s garment factories, which produce clothing for ranges on sale across the developed world, are alive with activity but the tension brimming in the air – and the lines of armed guards posted outside some gates – echo the anger that has swept the area...The unrest over rates of pay forced around 50 factories to shut for more than a week and led to dozens of arrests and the...temporary dismissal...of at least 1,500 workers. Last week, those workers still willing to huddle in Ashulia’s streets during their lunch breaks were swapping stories about the people dismissed...No factories will give them work now...one man in his late 20s says, asking that his name be withheld...They are in big trouble. One of my friends told me he doesn’t even stay at his own house, afraid the police will harass him..Another worries that he will not be paid for the weeks in December when the factories were shuttered. 

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Item
30 December 2016

Alliance Statement on the Detention and Interrogation of Labor Leaders in Bangladesh

Author: Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety

We are deeply troubled by reports of the detention and interrogation of nearly a dozen labor rights leaders by the Bangladesh government. The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety strongly supports the rights of workers to organize in accordance with the laws of Bangladesh. Our Member Agreement formally asserts the right of workers to refuse to work in dangerous conditions, and we support and encourage the right of workers to unionize in Alliance-affiliated factories... To the Alliance, empowering workers is nothing short of fundamental to ensuring factory safety... [Any] unwarranted detention or interrogation of labor advocates should not be undertaken or tolerated.

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Article
27 December 2016

Bangladesh garment factories sack hundreds after pay protests

Author: Michael Shafi, Guardian [UK]

At least 1,500 workers have been sacked from Bangladesh garment factories after protests forced a week-long shutdown at dozens of sites supplying top European and American brands. Tens of thousands of workers walked out of factories this month in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia which make clothes for top western brands such as Gap, Zara and H&M, prompting concerns over supply during the holiday season. The protests were sparked by the sacking of 121 workers, but soon evolved into a demand for the trebling of workers’ pay from the current monthly minimum of 5,300 taka (£54).

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Item
24 December 2016

CCC condemns escalating repression of unionists amid wage strikes Bangladesh

Author: Clean Clothes Campaign (Netherlands)

Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) is today raising concerns about the safety of trade union leaders and workers in Bangladesh, after a number of labour activists and workers were arrested on apparently arbitrary grounds. The arrests have come in the wake of a week of unrest, as thousands of workers in the Ashulia area of Dhaka went on strike to demand higher wages.

The strike, started on the 12th December, at the Windy Apparels factory - most recentlyin the news following the death of one its employees in October. The factory supplies a number of well know high street brands including H&M, Inditex (known for the brand Zara), Esprit, Tesco, Arcadia, S Oliver, and Debenhams...

[None] of the major trade union federations have endorsed the strike... [Trade] union leaders have instead urged workers to return to work, while recognizing that their concerns need to be dealt with by the government and employers. Despite this it appears the government is taking the opportunity to carry out a crackdown on trade unions, by threatening and arresting their leaders. On the 21st December seven local labor leaders were detained following a meeting convened by the Industrial police... [details additional arrests of other labour leaders]...

The CCC views the latest surge of harassment against trade unionists and workers as an attack against legitimate labour organising and as an attempt to stop workers from raising their concerns about their poverty wages and horrendous conditions. We call on the Bangladesh government to halt this repression, ensure that those arrest are either released or are provided with proper due process and to drop the indiscriminate charges against hundreds of workers. Brands sourcing from Bangladesh should support this position strongly to the Bangladeshi government...

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