Bangladeshi workers producing for Aldi in sit-in protest for owed wages
Sit-in protest in Dhaka enters its second week
The Clean Clothes Campaign is today calling on the Bangladesh government and the German low-cost retailer, Aldi, to immediately take action to ensure over 1000 workers employed at the Swan Garment and Swan Jeans factories are provided with months of unpaid wages and bonuses they were deprived of following the sudden and illegal closure of the factory in April 2015. Swan workers have been engaged in a sit-in outside the Dhaka Press Club since July the 11th to demand action from the Bangladesh government and are due to meet with the Minister of Labour later this week to discuss their demands.
Swan Garments and Swan Jeans are both owned by the Swan Group, who also own a further three factories in the Dhaka area. The Swan Group websites lists a number of European brands as long term buyers from the Group including Lidl, Next, Bestseller, Dunnes and Walmart. Workers claim they were producing for Aldi, Piazza Italia and Motivi in the months prior to closure.
After almost three decades of operating in Bangladesh it appears the Swan Group started facing difficulties in 2014, when many of its long term buyers pulled their orders and the factories began to rely on subcontracting to maintain their business. In January 2015 the factory suddenly stopped paying salaries. The Chinese owner of Swan Group, Ming Yuen Hon (Toby), attempted to flee the country on April 9th, but was prevented from doing so by workers who confronted him at the airport and brought him back to the factory. This action forced Mr Hon to pay one month salary to the workers, but on April 10th the two factories were illegally declared closed. According to his family Mr Hon committed suicide some time in the following weeks.
Workers have been engaged in various demonstrations since the 19th April to demand their unpaid salaries and to demand that factories are re-opened. Concerned that their fate will be the same as the Tuba Group workers who last year were forced to go on hunger strike to demand the wages and bonuses they were owed, several hundred Swan workers have been participating in a permanent sit down protest outside the Dhaka press club since July 12,th and a number of workers have been injured by police using force to attempt to disperse protesters. In response the Ministry of Labour and the BGMEA have been promising that steps would be taken to resolve the issue of unpaid wages, but as the Eid holiday passed workers continued to wait for the money they are owed.
“As is typical when we try to stand up for workers we are met with repression by the police. Workers have been injured by the police during our protest” says Joly Talukder, Joint General Secretary of the Garment Workers Trade Union Centre in Bangladesh, "workers have been continuously sitting day and night, even amidst heavy rain. The government is ignoring the protest and the state of workers and has not taken any step to meet the genuine legal demand to pay the arrears."
The problem of sudden and illegal closures of garment factories is growing in Bangladesh, in part due to changes in the industry triggered by the Rana Plaza collapse. These closures are leaving thousands of workers unemployed and deprived of their legally owed severance pay. To date little action has been taken by the Bangladesh government or international brands and retailers to ensure workers are not left without the wages and benefits they are owed.
“Swan Garments is one of many factories that has closed illegally in Bangladesh over the last year. As in the majority of cases it is workers who are left with nothing – not even the wages and severance payments they are owed” says Samantha Maher of the Clean Clothes Campaign. “It is unacceptable that once again workers are being left to pay the price for bad factory management, impossible buyer demands and government inaction and we urge Aldi and the Ministry of Labour to ensure justice for the Swan workers."
The Swan Group has been operating in Bangladesh since 1985 and until April 2015 ran five factories in Dhaka.