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Another Hero Dies: Mr. Aminul Islam

May, 01 2012 Share

 

U.S. Ambassador Dan Mozena urges Bangladesh Government to probe labor leader’s death.  The Ambassador told Aminul’s wife, “Mr. Aminul Islam is a martyr of Bangladesh’s labor movement.” (Daily Star, April 18, 2012)

Mr. Aminul Islam was reported missing on Wednesday, April 4, and was found dead the following day, April 5, in Tangail, about 50 miles from Dhaka.  Police photographs show that Aminul was tortured.  His ankles and toes are broken and a spike was driven into his right knee.

Animul was himself a worker, starting out in a jeans factory in the Savar Export Processing Zone.  He was smart, brave and honest so his co-workers asked Aminul run for election to represent the workers welfare association at the Saasha Denim Factory.  Management’s response was to immediately fire Aminul, who then became a full-time organizer at Savar with the Bangladesh Center for Worker Rights.

Just days after Mr. Islam’s death, we had the chance to meet with a group of workers from Shanta Industries Limited, a huge garment manufacturer, with three large factories and 8,000 workers in the Savar Export Processing Zone.  For 13 years, the factory was owned by a Sri Lankan manager, who recently sold Shanta Industrials Limited to a British investor, who the workers call “Richard.”

When we met the workers, they were making Nike soccer jerseys for Barcelona and other teams leading up to the summer Olympics in London.  The workers quickly rattled off other labels such as Polo, Tommy Hilfiger, American Eagle and more.

There was also a workers welfare association at Shanta Industrials, which was supposed to represent the workers, and on paper at least, had the respect to freedom of association, to form an independent union and bargain collectively.  But this is not how Shanta Industrials workers welfare association was allowed to operate.  It was factory management that chose the “leaders” of the workers welfare association and then informed the workers “here are your leaders.”  If any workers dared speak the truth or fought for the legal rights of the workers, they were fired immediately.

The workers were always under tremendous pressure to reach their excessive production goals.  Supervisors constantly shouted, screamed and cursed at the workers to go faster.  Workers who failed to reach their mandatory production goals were humiliated and forced to stand at attention for a full day, or even two days, standing in front of their co-workers.  No one makes it past 40 years of age, as they were worn out, exhausted, and fired.  Workers were searched on the way into the factory and all cell phones were confiscated for the day.

For four years, starting some time in 2007, the workers have struggled to form a genuine union, or workers welfare association at the Shanta factory.

It was Mr. Aminul Islam, the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity organizer, who first taught the Shanta workers their legal rights.  The workers referred to him as their teacher.  “If you have any problems,” Aminul always said, “get back to me and I’ll help.”

Factory owners at Shanta Industrials and other plants in the sprawling Savar Export Processing Zone, “were angry at Aminul,” the workers told us, “which is why he may have been killed.”

The Shanta workers are frightened for good reasons: “There is no one to support us as Aminul had helped us.  Workers now have zero security.”

Workers who were involved in a strike at Shanta are now on hiding, afraid if they return to their homes they too will be arrested and mistreated.