Union activists in Bangladesh beaten and threatened for exercising their right to organise

Last week, on 15 February 2024, union organisers and activists of the Akota Garment Worker Federation (AGWF) in Bangladesh were beaten, threatened, and subsequently hospitalised. The attack followed an attempt by workers of the Libas Textiles factory in Gazipur, to establish a factory union that would join the AGWF.
Shariful Islam in hospital after the attack

The factory union had filed for registration according to the law in July 2023 but were denied registration. Bangladesh labour law is restrictive in allowing new unions to organise, and often arbitrary in its application on union’s registration requests. The workers' urge to unionised followed increased production targets and sustained verbal abuse of workers.

The attack on the two union representatives (Shariful Islam and Jagdish Babu), in front of the factory gates, has had a chilling effect on the factory level union, which under threat of further violence, abduction, and even death has suspended all activity. Union leaders are afraid to sleep at home, fearing for further attacks.

Brands that publicly name this factory in their recent factory lists include H&M, Next, and ALDI South. Export records also identify Polish brand LPP (Reserved), NKD, Tally Weijl, Kappa, LC Waikiki, and C&A as sourcing from the factory. Additional brands identified by the union, but which do not disclose their production locations include US POLO, Bonmax, Columbus, and Piazza Italia. The factory was also listed in the February 2024 Fairtrade certification list.

Clean Clothes Campaign expresses solidarity with the struggle and plight of the workers. All workers must have the right to organise themselves and stand up for their rights without facing violence or bureaucratic obstruction. It is of vital importance that all brands that source from this factory ensure that the management halts all violence and threats against its workers, the union, and its organisers immediately.

This violent attack on union leaders does not stand on its own. In June 2023, union leader Shahidul Islam was beaten to death after leaving the Prince Jacquard Sweater factory in Gazipur (a supplier to New Yorker, Piazza Italia and many other brands), where he had a meeting with management about unpaid wages. Between October and December 2023, at least four protesting workers were killed and many more beaten and injured or faced legal persecution after protesting for higher wages. These were workers making clothes for H&M, Bestseller, Kontoor Brands and many other well known brands. All brands sourcing from Bangladesh should immediately ensure that the workers in the factories that make their product have the freedom to organise themselves without fearing violence or other union busting measures.


published 2024-02-21