Four leading international labor rights organizations, the Worker Rights Consortium, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Clean Clothes Campaign, and the Maquila Solidarity Network, issued the following statement on the current labor rights crisis in Bangladesh:
The government of Bangladesh and leading garment suppliers are carrying out a campaign of repression against the nation’s trade unions. In response to largely peaceful strikes over the country’s extremely low minimum wage, the government has jailed at least 24 workers and labor activists, primarily on the basis of criminal complaints from factory managers. It is widely recognized in the international community that the charges against the jailed activists are false and that no credible evidence has been brought forward. The concerns of the international community are reflected by a major article in last week’s New York Times that was highly critical of the government’s actions, followed by an editorial yesterday that concluded, “the failure by the garment industry and Ms. Hasina’s government to adhere to its principles stains an industry and threatens the economy and stability of Bangladesh.”
This persecution of trade unionists by the government and the factory owners is not only morally wrong; it is putting the entire ready-made-garment (RMG) industry at risk. Global brands and retailers that produce in Bangladesh care about their reputations and those reputations have already been damaged due to labor conditions in the country – as a result of the Tazreen Fashions fire, the Rana Plaza building collapse, the decision of the US government to suspend trade benefits for Bangladesh because of the government’s failure to protect worker rights, the murder of trade unionist Aminul Islam, and other events. Brands and retailers will not expose themselves to unlimited risk.
Already, labor rights organizations have launched a petition targeting brands and retailers that do business with the suppliers responsible for the false criminal complaints against the trade unionists. The targeted companies include H&M, Gap, C&A, Inditex and VF. In addition, a global coalition of more than 20 labor and human rights organizations has written to dozens of brands and retailers to decry the attack on the Bangladesh labor movement. The pressure on the brands and retailers will continue to increase until all of the unionists are released from jail and the factories also reinstate the 1,500 workers they have fired in retaliation for striking.
The suppliers that have brought criminal complaints against the trade unionists are at the most immediate risk of losing customers. This includes Ha-Meem Group, Dekko Designs, That's It Sportswear/Ha-Meem Group, Windy Apparels, Sharmin Apparels/Sharmin Group, Cathay Apparels, Fountain Garment and The Rose Dresses. In the long run, as the New York Times article makes clear, it is the whole RMG industry that could be damaged by the fact that, as the Times notes, brands sourcing from Bangladesh “once again… find the reputation of their brands compromised.”