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Bangladesh Government Linked to Blacklist

Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights |  By Charles Kernaghan | July, 26 2012 |  Share  | Source Article

Thursday, July 26, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                           

CONTACT:           Barbara Briggs   office: 412-562-2406;  cell: 412-417-9384                              

 

Bangladesh Government Linked to Illegal Blacklisting of Apparel Workers 

Suppliers to Major U.S. Brands-
Wal-Mart, Hanes, GAP, J.C. Penney, Nike, Levi's and Tommy Hilfiger-
Implicated

 

Bangladesh's Government operates a blacklist targeting and firing garment workers seeking their legal rights, according to new information obtained by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.

Institute director Charles Kernaghan stated today, "The Bangladesh Government is in direct violation of many of the International Labour Organization's core worker rights conventions, which the country ratified in June 1973, including Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize (ILO Convention 87), and the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining (ILO Convention 98)."

In what according to the Institute is an unprecedented step, one of the world's largest knitwear manufacturers, the South Ocean Group, headquartered in China and a major producer in Bangladesh's Export Processing Zones, has confirmed repeatedly that the government-run Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) is actively involved in the illegal blacklisting of workers seeking their rights.

This is the first concrete evidence that the Government of Bangladesh is operating a widespread scheme to terminate and blacklist workers asking for their legal rights under Bangladesh's labor laws and the ILO's core, internationally recognized worker rights standards.

The government's illegal blacklisting scheme, covering hundreds of thousands of workers in the Export Processing Zones, has spilled over, giving the green light to the thousands of privately-owned garment factories (supplying clothing exports to the U.S., Europe and Australia) to deny the legal rights of more than 3.5 million garment workers.

The United States Trade Representative's Office should launch an immediate fact-finding mission to Bangladesh to guarantee the legal rights of workers.

In an email circulated to over a dozen international companies, government and NGO representatives, South Ocean executives issued the following statement in May 2012:

"By this email, I would like to update you on a few further developments since our last communication to you on May 21.

"BEPZA's Blacklist

"We have informed you that the factory management on May 10 and May 13 had made requests to BEPZA (at its Ishwardi office and its headquarters at Dhaka) to withdraw from its blacklist the workers dismissed after the January/February unrest. Both requests were turned down due to BEPZA's own policies and concerns.

"On May 22, a representative of South Ocean from Hong Kong visited the Dhaka headquarters of BEPZA and met with the Chairman, Deputy General Manager and three other BEPZA officers to make a third and final appeal to the authority for the withdrawal of workers from the blacklist. Again, our request was flatly turned down by BEPZA who stated that such withdrawal would set a bad precedent for the other EPZs, and that there was no law or regulation allowing such withdrawal."

 

On June 19, 2012, the Bangladeshi newspaper Daily Kalerkantha in an article titled "Fired Workers Threaten to Commit Suicide" quoted the government-appointed Mr. Mahnud Hasan, general manager of the Ishwardi Export Processing Zone:

"Mr. Mahnud Hasan, General Manager of Ishwardi EPZ [Export Processing Zone], said that the 291 workers who are fired and blacklisted have no right to speak about the EPZ. Not only the Ishwardi EPZ but none of the EPZs in Bangladesh will hire the fired and black-listed workers..."  (Translated from Bengali)

The 291 workers fired and blacklisted at the Ishwardi Export Processing Zone were seeking their legal rights under Bangladeshi and international law when they were fired.  According to Kernaghan,

"Illegal firings and blacklisting are the norm at government-run export processing zones across Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of garment workers are stripped of their legal rights.  We are now calling upon all the major U.S., Canadian, European and Australian labels producing in Bangladesh, including Wal-Mart, Hanesbrands, Carrefour and Tesco, to immediately go on record urging the Bangladesh Government to end the illegal practice of blacklisting workers seeking their legal rights."

 

Bangladesh is at a Turning Point
With 3.5 million jobs at stake

 

United States Ambassador to Bangladesh calls for Respect for Worker Rights:

"U.S. companies want to buy products from Bangladesh, but they are very concerned about labour issues, safety at [the] workplace and freedom of association in Bangladesh," stated U.S. Ambassador Mr. Dan Mozena.  Speaking for the United States, Ambassador Mozena also decried the torture and assassination of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Rights labor leader, Mr. Aminul Islam in early April.

- The Daily Star, July 11, 2012
"RMG Labour Unrest/Mozena Mirrors Buyers Concern"

Again on July 25, 2012, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, Mr. Dan Mozena stated:

"Employers [in Bangladesh] need to devote greater attention to Freedom of Association."

                                                                                - Financial Express, July 25, 2012

On May 5, 2012, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "discussed the recent killing of Mr. Islam, the labor organizer" at the Prime Minister's office in Dhaka.

- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  Remarks, U.S. State Department
  May 2012

 

There are 3.5 million garment workers in Bangladesh, over 80 percent of whom are young women, working long hours in 4,500 garment export factories.  Bangladesh's garment workers are among the hardest workers in the world, but they are also among the poorest.  Over the course of the last six years, base wages have risen just nine cents an hour, from 12 cents an hour in 2006 to 21 cents in November 2010 with no wage increase since.  However, a soaring 29 percent inflation rate over the last three years has lowered the effective base wage to 2010 equivalent of only 16.3 cents an hour.

Bangladesh is the third largest garment exporter to the United States, following just China and Vietnam.  Bangladesh exports even more garments to Europe.

The American people have a powerful voice, if we choose to use it.  In 2011, Bangladesh exported over $4.5 billion worth of garments to the U.S.  To show how much money this is, there are 313 million people in the U.S.  This means that every single man, woman and child in the U.S. is spending an average of $14.41 buying garments made in Bangladesh.  We have the power to demand that Bangladesh's local labor laws are respected and enforced, along with the ILO's internationally recognized worker rights standards, including the right to decent working conditions, the right to organize an independent union and to bargain collectively.

Among the major U.S. buyers in Bangladesh are Wal-Mart, Hanesbrands, GAP, J.C. Penney, Nike, Levis and Tommy Hilfiger.  European labels made in Bangladesh include Carrefour, Tesco, H&M, Marks & Spencer and Metro Group.

 

Some of the U.S. Labels Produced in Bangladesh's Export Processing Zones:

Wal-Mart, Nike, Hanesbrands, Tommy Hilfiger, Reebok, GAP, J.C. Penney, Kmart, Wrangler, Lee, Levi’s Dockers, NBA, Eddie Bauer, Falcon, American Eagle...

Some of the European and Australian Labels Produced in Bangladesh's Export Processing Zones:

BHS/British Home Stores/Arcadia Group (United Kingdom), Peek & Cloppenburg/Van Graf (Germany),Coles/Wesfarmers (Australia), Dressmann/Varner Group (Norway), Celio (France), de Bijenkorf (The Netherlands), Fynch-Hatton (Germany), H&M (Sweden), Mother Care (United Kingdom), adidas (Germany), Emmilee/Free Spirit (United Kingdom), Miles (Germany); Hi-Tech, Maurice Phillips (United Kingdom)

 

 

Attachments

Names of blacklisted workers posted at the government-run Uttara Export Processing Zone

Syed Ashfaqul Haque. Daily Star. "Top RMG buyers worried at unrest." July 19, 2012.

Undertaking Letter

Download all attachments

 

- The Daily Star, Thursday, July 26, 2012, "Violence in RMG Sector"

Institute:             "Chinese Sweatshop in Bangladesh," March 8, 2012

                           "Bangladeshi Workers Fight Back," May 3, 2012

 

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (formerly National Labor Committee) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) human rights organization dedicated to the promotion and defense of internationally recognized worker rights in the global economy.  Founded in 1981, the Institute's research, in-depth reports, high profile public campaigns and widespread media coverage have been instrumental in creating the anti-sweatshop movement in the United States and internationally.  The Institute is headquartered in Pittsburgh with regional offices in Dhaka and San Salvador and research/advocacy partnerships in China, Jordan, Central America and South Asia.

 

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Attachment 1

2010 Photo: Names of blacklisted workers posted at the government-run Uttara Export Processing Zone

Download the original file

 

Attachment 2

Daily Star: Front Page
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Syed Ashfaqul Haque

Top RMG buyers worried at unrest 
Share views in a rare meeting in Dhaka, finalise a letter to PM for solution

The world's top buyers of Bangladeshi garment products yesterday gathered in Dhaka to share their concerns over persistent labour unrest in the industry and to finalise an SOS message to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Buyers from about 19 leading brands, including Walmart and Gap, appear deeply troubled at the conditions of the garment and textile sectors and the prospects of their business in Bangladesh.

"Industry disruptions and worker grievances are now impacting our ability to direct businesses to Bangladesh." It was the unanimous view of the representatives, who attended the unprecedented meeting at Walmart's Gulshan office in Dhaka in the morning.

Never before have readymade garment buyers been so united in making their concerns known in the hope that they will be addressed by the Bangladesh government. They were compelled to take the initiative as labour unrest has recently gone from bad to worse and the world economy continues to dip.

The brand leaders decided to take a united step soon after the latest spat of violence in Ashulia last month, two and a half months after the forced disappearance of labour leader Aminul Islam, said a source close to the buyers.

The discussion lasted over two hours, a great deal of which was spent on workers' wages, an issue the buyers identified as the main reason behind the unrest, a meeting source told The Daily Star, wishing not to be named.

The buyers also finalised a letter to be sent to the PM, the draft of which The Daily Star has managed to obtain.

The letter, a copy of which will be given to the embassies of all countries represented by the buyers, is due to be sent to the prime minister by the middle of next month. Prior to that, the buyers plan to hold a series of meetings with the labour and commerce ministries as well as with two garment exporters associations.

Concerns as well as suggestions for an inflation adjustment to the wages were tabled in yesterday's rare meeting, in the hope that the highest office will act promptly to tackle the crisis methodically.

"As significant buyers of apparels and textile products from Bangladesh, our companies have been observing with great concern the current garment factory worker unrest," began the letter to the PM. "Unrest among the workers in this sector is seen as risk among our companies and could cause damage to the reputation of Bangladesh as a reliable sourcing market."

Signatories of the letter also include H&M, Carrefour, Tesco, JC Penney, Nike, MARKS & SPENCER, mothercare and Levi's.

The brand companies, which are known to be socially responsible, were very critical of violent protests, acknowledging at the same time workers' frustrations, heightened by inflation.

Government statistics show that overall inflation stood at 8.56 percent last month. Food inflation in June came down to 7.08 percent from 7.46 percent a month ago. It was 13.75 percent in last September. Non-food inflation hit a record 13.96 percent in March, but stood at 11.72 percent last month.

Against this backdrop, the garment buyers urged the government to conduct at least one annual review of minimum wages in line with the inflation and consumer price index.

"Once this functional review system is created and enforced, these revisions will help address the basic needs of the workers," the buyers hope.

The minimum wage of garment workers was first set in 2006 and revised again in November 2010 when the monthly pay of an entry-level worker was increased from Tk 1,662 to Tk 3,000.

The buyers pledge of long term business commitments in Bangladesh provided that the industry was in compliance with local and international labour and environmental laws.

Sources confided that American buyers are particularly concerned about the disappearance of Aminul.

The forty-year-old trade union leader disappeared on April 4 from Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital. Aminul's body was found the next day by the Tangail-Mymensingh highway.

The US has been pressing the government for quite some time to probe the matter and bring the culprits to book. Dan Mozena, the US envoy in Bangladesh, has gone on record to hint several times that any failure in this regard may drive American buyers away from Bangladesh.

The government is yet to wake up to the risk that looms large.

Garment factory owners are not as oblivious to the realities as the government, however. "Just read between the lines of Mozena's comments and the buyers' letter [read out to him], and you will get to see the veiled threat," said Rezaul Ahsan, a top sweater exporter in Gazipur.

Buyers are united and backed by their countries, but the young entrepreneur takes it optimistically: "We must respond positively to the buyers' initiative. A socially compliant garment industry can only bring in more forex."

 

 

Attachment 3

Undertaking Letter

At the Bangladeshi government-run Ishwardi Export Processing Zone, officials forced workers to sign a statement - under threat of termination, that, "If I have any demands, complaints or grievances, I will talk to or write management and resolve issues peacefully."  What the Bangladeshi government is doing is illegal.  Workers have every right to consult with labor, religious and human rights advocates.  Under no circumstances can workers be obligated to give up their right to seek counsel or freedom of speech as a condition of employment.

With regards to the MOU referenced below: When workers were charged and then released the  BEPZA (not the factories) had them sign the attached document, of which the translation is as follows,