Bangladesh: international concerns about arrests

Labour- and Human-Rights Organisations Call on Government of Bangladesh to Release Worker-Rights Advocates, Fear They Will be Tortured. Leaders of Prominent Labour-Rights Group Were Seized by Police on August 13

Amsterdam, August 14, 2010 - Labour- and human-rights organisations in Europe, the U.S., and Canada are decrying the arrest late Thursday night of leaders of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) and calling for their immediate release. Ms. Kalpona Akter and Mr. Babul Ahkter were arrested at 2:00 am in Dhaka by twenty armed police.

The AFL-CIO, Worker Rights Consortium, International Labor Rights Forum, United Students Against Sweatshops (all based in the US), Maquila Solidarity Network (Canada) and Clean Clothes Campaign (Europe) called on the Government of Bangladesh to immediately release the labour-rights advocates and drop the unsubstantiated charges against them. The groups also expressed grave concern for their safety in light of Bangladeshi authorities’ record of torturing detainees.

BCWS is one of the most prominent human-rights organisations working to improve conditions in the Bangladesh garment export sector, the country’s leading industry. It conducts worker rights training and legal and public advocacy to improve labour practices. Kalpona Akter, the organisation’s Executive Director, is a former child labourer herself. Babul Ahkter is the executive director of the Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation.

The BCWS leaders were arrested on unsubstantiated charges of fomenting worker unrest. This seems to be part of a strategy by the Government of Bangladesh to deal with recent riots among garment workers by scapegoating peaceful worker advocates rather than addressing the true underlying cause of such turmoil: the country’s abysmal working conditions. At 20 cents per hour, Bangladesh has by far the lowest wages of any major apparel producing country. Since the Banglasdesh garment industry mushroomed in the 1990's, numerous fires and collapsing factory buildings have killed scores of workers.

The arrest of BCWS’ leaders is the latest in an escalating government campaign against the organisation. On June 3, the NGO Affairs Bureau canceled BCWS’ NGO registration and ordered that its property be confiscated and its bank accounts frozen. Less than two weeks later, a member of the organisation’s staff, Aminul Islam, was detained by security forces and severely beaten before managing to escape.


The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is a voluntary federation of 56 national and international labor unions. The AFL-CIO union movement represents 11.5 million members, including 3 million members in Working America, its community affiliate. For more information, please visit

International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) is an advocacy organization dedicated to achieving just and humane treatment for workers worldwide. ILRF works to stop child labor, promote and protect the rights of working women, end sweatshop labor, and to end violence against trade unions. In addition ILRF is focused through its SweatFree Communities campaigns on the promotion of labor rights of garment workers especially in countries like Bangladesh. Learn more at and

The Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) is a labour and women's rights organization that supports the efforts of workers in global supply chains to win improved wages and working conditions and a better quality of life. For more information, please visit

The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) works to improve conditions and support the empowerment of workers in the global garment industry. It has national campaigns in 14 European countries with a network of 250 organizations worldwide. For more information, please visit

United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is a student organization with chapters at over 150 universities, colleges and high schools across North America. USAS campaigns in support of service workers on our campuses and factory workers making apparel for their schools. For more information, please visit

Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) is an independent labor rights monitoring organization, conducting investigations of working conditions in factories around the globe. The WRC is proud to have the support of over 175 college and university affiliates and its primary focus is the labor practices of factories that make apparel and other goods bearing university logos. For more information, please visit