In an alarming step backwards for worker rights and democracy in the country, at least 11 trade union leaders and worker activists have been arrested. At the same time, security forces have raided the houses of trade union leaders and volunteers, and many have gone into hiding in fear of their safety.
Trade union offices in Ashulia, the garment-producing hub of the capital Dhaka, have been invaded, vandalized and forcibly shut down, with membership documents burned and furniture removed.
After garment workers demanded an increase in wages in December, more than 1,600 workers have been fired and police have filed cases against 600 workers and trade union leaders.
IndustriALL and Uni have teamed up with LabourStart for the online petition demanding that the Bangladesh government release all detained union leaders and activists and stop the repression of garment workers.
Despite the crackdown, Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina has been joining the world’s elite in Davos this week telling business leaders and the international community that there are harmonious industrial relations in the readymade garment (RMG) industry in the country. She also said her country was “highly committed to ensuring compliance with regard to the RMG industry.”
The garment industry is crucial to Bangladesh’s economy where it makes up 83 per cent of exports, and is the world’s second largest producer of textile and apparel, employing 4.5 million workers of which 80 per cent are women.
IndustriALL and Uni have been at the forefront of improving worker rights and safety in the garment industry in Bangladesh, following the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers. They were the drivers of the Bangladesh Accord, a legally-binding agreement signed by more than 200 global brands, to inspect 1,600 garment factories for fire and safety hazards. More than 74% of identified safety issues in the 1,600 factories have been reported or verified as fixed.