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8 Jan 2017

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.

Company Responses

Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) View Response