Major developments in Bangladesh labour crackdown - Important first step taken however crisis not resolved

published 24-02-2017 18:45, last modified 24-02-2017 18:57
After months of intense efforts by labour unions, and labour and human rights organisations, all over the world, yesterday, Bangladesh trade unionists, the government and the employers’ organisation announced the planned release of all remaining detained labour leaders. Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum and the Worker Rights Consortium welcome the announcement as an important first step, but warn that in its current form it still falls short of fully resolving the crisis in Bangladesh.

The announcement follows yesterday's news of leading garment retailers’ high-profile withdrawal from a major apparel event in Bangladesh. 

In a sudden turn of events this Thursday 23 February, the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC), the Bangladesh Labour Ministry and the Manufacturers’ Association BGMEA met. The minutes of that meeting were shared in a press conference.

The document has significant weaknesses. It does not include a commitment that criminal charges will be dropped. It calls for reinstatement offers for fired workers, but not for back pay. It fails to mention any time-line for any of the actions to be implemented.

Mirjam van Heugten from Clean Clothes Campaign says: 'We welcome the announced re-opening of all registered union offices, and the planned release of all remaining workers under arrest (at the time of this release 3 labour leaders were still in jail). The document does not, however, constitute a basis for us as international labour rights organisations to conclude that the crisis in Bangladesh has been resolved, as there remain major issues outstanding. Without a guarantee from the relevant authorities that all charges are actually being dropped, the problems with freedom of association in Bangladesh cannot be considered resolved.'

Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker Rights Consortium said: “We hope that an agreed plan of action with further clarification and assurances will be provided shortly, sufficient to warrant the conclusion that workers' associational rights will be fully restored. Until that occurs, we do not believe it would be responsible for brands and retailers, and the international community, to consider the crisis to be over.”

After a non-violent strike broke out in the industrial district of Ashulia (Dhaka) in December 2016, workers and trade unionists have been subjected to a wave of repression, involving over 34 arrests and detentions, dozens of false criminal charges, more than 1500 dismissals, and the closure of several trade union offices. Trade unionists and labour rights advocates around the world have denounced this crackdown on labour rights.

“We will be monitoring the situation closely in the coming days and weeks to find out whether the local industry and government genuinely intend to end the repression and remedy the violations of associational rights,” said Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum. “To achieve that outcome, continued pressure from the brands and international community will be essential.”