Bangladesh garment workers still fighting for justice

This video says about itself:

Bangladesh – 1 year after the Tazreen Fashion factory fire

21 November 2013

At the Tazreen Fashions factory site, IndustriALL and UNI Global Union speaks to Suman Kabir who lost his wife Masuma in the fire at Tazreen Fashion on 24 November 2012.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Bangladesh garment workers battling for their rights

NEARLY two years after a preventable fire killed 112 garment workers in Bangladesh, the owner of the Tazreen Fashion factory is out of jail, still in business and accused of cheating and retaliating against 1,600 employees at a separate five-factory complex.

Delwar Hossain spent fewer than six months in pre-trial detention before his release on bail on August 5. He and his wife, Mahmuda Akter, had surrendered to Dhaka authorities in February, having been charged with culpable homicide 13 months after the deadly fire at Tazreen.

But until now, the courts have repeatedly denied Hossain’s request to be let out on bail. (Akter must report to the station every week.)

While Hossain was in custody, his wife and close associates continued to operate Tuba Fashions and four other garment factories in a large building in Dhaka’s Badda neighbourhood.

Garment workers’ rights advocates contend that in May he instructed Tuba managers to withhold pay from some 1,600 employees and pressure them to sign a petition supporting his release.

At the time, the factory was producing soccer jerseys emblazoned with the FIFA World Cup logo, say labour organisers in close contact with the workers.

By July 9, employees were still owed two months’ compensation, it was alleged. They began to protest in front of the factory, on the streets and outside the offices of the powerful Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), only to be hosed down, teargassed and shot at with rubber bullets by the police.

One woman reported a miscarriage to Saydia Gulrukh, a labour advocate with the Asia Floor Wage group, which supports a regional, baseline living wage.

As the Muslim holiday of Eid approached, the unpaid workers — who were earning an average of 5,000 Taka, or $60.45, per month — became unable to afford rent and food, let alone the cost of their annual natal pilgrimage.

They occupied the factory and went on a hunger strike beginning July 28, prompting the Tuba Group to pay two months’ back wages. Then, on August 7, the police arrested Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers Unity Forum, prompting further worker protests. Tuba officials eventually paid an additional month’s salary plus one month overtime — but no Eid bonus.

The Dhaka Central Jail released Delwar on August 5. The following day, according to Gulrukh, he intimidated witnesses involved in civil litigation brought by Tazreen victims.

‘I was physically assaulted by his gunmen, and many of us who were part of the process have been threatened,’ Gulrukh said.

On August 19, in response to Tuba employees’ continued protests, Hossain hung closure notices on the doors of all five factories. The next day, as 400 workers marched to demand reopening and reinstatement, Mishu and Jesmina Jui, a student and member of the Garment Workers Solidarity Forum, were pulled from the crowd and detained for several hours by the police.

‘We want immediate cancellation of his bail, and we demand that he should go to jail as Tazreen workers’ murderer,’ Mishu said.

‘We want the owner to provide the 1,600 workers, if he closes the factory, all salaries and benefits, and BGMEA should provide the 1,600 workers (new jobs) at different factories.’

Neither Hossain, through his attorney, nor the BGMEA responded to media requests for comment. The BGMEA’s last press release on the Tuba Group workers, dated August 6, reported that 1,350 people had received two months’ ‘arrears’ under the industry group’s supervision.

The Tuba workers’ campaign can be seen as an epilogue to Tazreen and another reminder of the influence of the garment export sector, which accounts for 18 percent of Bangladesh’s GDP. Industry conditions and oversight have improved only slightly since April 2013, when the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory killed nearly 1,200 and injured some 2,500 workers, mostly young women.

‘That was really the impetus to get the world’s attention and put enough pressure for the world to take this matter seriously,’ said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL global union, which represents 50 million workers.

‘When the industry moved to Asia and expanded quickly, it was built on an unsustainable model of poor wages, dangerous working conditions and no right to a union. And this has now exploded.’

IndustriALL points to hard-won wage hikes in China and Indonesia and claims that its Bangladeshi affiliates have unionised more than 100 factories and 40,000 workers since August 2013.

The union advocates country-specific minimum wages — its affiliates have demanded about $100 per month in Bangladesh, up from the current minimum of $68, and $177 in Cambodia — and global negotiations with clothing brands such as Zara, Gap and H&M.

But while 180 companies, and their subcontractors by extension, have now signed up to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, neither this voluntary agreement nor the Rana Plaza Arrangement, a compensation fund, demand anything of the Bangladeshi government or local business interests.

‘Sixty per cent of the parliament members still directly or indirectly are connected to the garment industry,’ Gulrukh said.

‘That influence hasn’t changed. Of course, post-Rana Plaza, there hasn’t been a disaster as big, but there are smaller cases. Like in October, there was a major factory fire in which five workers were killed.’

The garment sector remains dangerous not only in Bangladesh but in other export-dependent developing countries.

‘Over the past two months in Cambodia, hundreds of garment workers have fainted on the job, and two women employed by Phnom Penh-area contractors for the Gap, Old Navy and H&M collapsed and died in July. The deputy chief of health at the Cambodian labour ministry attributed the fainting spells to overwork, poor health, exposure to chemical substances and hysteria.

According to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, in 2013 there were 147 strikes, many quite bloody, compared to fewer than three dozen in 2011.

‘Why do workers faint and die in Cambodia? Why do these strikes happen? It’s basically still because the wages are so terribly low,’ Raina said. ‘It’s all over Asia . . . but the workers have had enough.’

l On August 11, over 1,600 garment workers in Bangladesh, who were in their 11th day of a hunger strike, won the overdue wages owed by their employer, Tuba Group.

Striking workers who were occupying Tuba Group factories were also violently attacked by police using tear gas and rubber bullets, and several activists and supporters were arrested.

Activists believed that the Tuba Group did not pay their workers for months as part of a strategy to force the government to offer bail to the company’s former director, Delwar Hossain, who was imprisoned on charges of neglect.

Mushrefa Mishu, one of the leaders of the protest, said, ‘Withholding workers’ wages was dirty politics from the owners to have Delwar bailed out.’

Tuba Group is a large garment manufacturer that supplies clothes to Walmart and FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup. The strike began on July 28, the first day of Eid, after workers had not been paid for three months and had not received a promised holiday bonus. The Tuba Group is the same company that owned the Tazreen factory, which burned in 2012, killing 112 workers.

About 1,600 Tuba Group garment workers are threatened with the loss of their jobs after the group’s owner suddenly closed down its five factories, near Dhaka, on August 18. The owner, Delwar Hossain, claimed at a press conference that he could reopen the factories if the company could obtain a government-backed bank loan of 250-300 million Taka ($US3.2-3.8 million) at a lower interest rate: here.

Jean Lambert arrives in Bangladesh to meet those working in the garment sector where life – and labour – is cheap: here.

A dawn-to-dusk day saw scheduled site visits, accompanying teams of inspectors, touring factories and speaking on a panel about gender empowerment at the apparel summit, and visiting the Rana Plaza site. It isn’t possible to visit the scene of such catastrophic loss of life and not feel outrage: here.

New Platform Sheds Lights on Multinationals and Human Rights: here.

14 thoughts on “Bangladesh garment workers still fighting for justice

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  3. Friday, 19 December 2014

    UNI holds its World Congress in Cape Town

    TANSY Hoskins, the author of Anti-Capitalist Fashion, addressed the UNI International Union World Congress world Congress in Cape Town on December 7.

    She said: ‘When we talk about Rana Plaza we talk about the 1,138 people, mostly young women, that were killed.

    ‘But when you go to Savar just outside of Dhaka and sit and talk with survivors, or the families of the deceased, you begin to understand that this is a tragedy that has impacted on hundreds of thousands of people.

    ‘The networks of families left behind, the children psychologically scarred and unable to let their fathers out of their sight, the myriad of villages that lost young women and the mothers that wait in the remains of the collapse clutching tattered photos of children that were never found.

    ‘The added pain of this disaster was that it was not unexpected.

    ‘Global labour had been warning that a catastrophe of this magnitude was possible, that the Bangladeshi garment industry was at breaking point.

    ‘These were warnings that big business ignored, too intent on reaping profits from the Global South. The warnings even went unheeded after fire swept through the Tazreen factory in 2012 and killed over 100 women.

    ‘In the hours and days after Rana Plaza collapsed, I can only imagine that it must have been anger at being ignored as well as the sickening pain of being right that compounded Union determination for a global response the like of which we have not seen before.

    ‘How else do you step up to the most powerful people in the world and tell them: this time, you sign our deal.
    ‘But of course anger and the burning desire to do the right thing do not change the world. Three weeks after the collapse there were no brand signatories, just two who had said ‘maybe’. Even over the bodies of 1,138 people many brands were unmoved.

    ‘I first heard the inside story of what happened next at the British Trade Union Congress in September 2013. Listening to Philip Jennings speak at the Congress, the excitement and daring of what had been achieved became apparent.

    ‘He outlined how it was at this point that a combination of organised labour and grass roots activism asserted itself. Using the outpouring of anger at the tragedy, a campaign of media – and social media – pressure was launched against H&M in Sweden. As public pressure mounted H&M came to the table pen in hand.

    ‘The most crucial power base was however the affiliated unions. As Phillip Jennings explained to the TUC: “We said to our union affiliates in the retail sector, pick up the phone. Every one of you has a collective agreement, some of you are sitting on boards of directors — you get the companies to sign up.”

    ‘The stories of trade unionists demanding that big retailers like Marks & Spencer and Next sign the Accord to protect their brothers and sisters along the garment supply chain, remain moving to this day.

    ‘“Our members are the ones that sell these clothes,” Fiona Wilson, USDAW’s head of research and economics, told me later.

    “They are linked with workers in Bangladesh; they care about what happens to these people and their families.”

    ‘The pressure campaign by the affiliates was a success. Within days, 35 retailers signed a legally binding, worker-led agreement that stated in black and white that they now had responsibility for the workers in their factories.

    ‘Today, the Bangladesh Accord contains the signatures of some of the most powerful brands in the world. The first round of inspections has been completed, eighteen highly unsafe buildings have been closed and many more given strict standards to adhere to.

    ‘There are three more years of hard work left to do and more campaigning to ensure a decent compensation agreement for families of victims and survivors.

    ‘It will remain unforgiveable that 1,138 people had to die before big business would take some responsibility for its supply chains. I do believe, however, that in the history not just of the fashion industry, but also of the global labour market and indeed of the world, that the Bangladesh Accord will be judged as a momentous achievement and a testimony to international solidarity amongst organised working people.

    ‘It was therefore an honour to come and speak with the UNI affiliates in Cape Town – to meet many of the people who stood up to be counted and ensured that we are not gathered here to mourn yet another building collapse, but rather to mark a historic achievement and pledge to keep fighting until the garment industry is made fully fair and safe for its millions of employees.’

    • Rana Plaza was the deadliest factory disaster in history. On April 23 last year a shoddily built eight-storey building in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, collapsed.

    Inside at the time were some 3,500 garment workers producing top brand name goods for sale around the world. Nearly 1,000 died instantly and the final toll was 1,134 dead and more than 2,000 injured.

    It was the Nigerian TB Joshua death toll magnified ten times. And although it did not receive the publicity in South Africa that it deserved, what happened at Rana Plaza should have highlighted lessons for South Africa.

    However, the tragedy triggered a global response from the labour movement and human rights groups that resulted in the first ever legally binding fire and building safety accord signed with leading global clothing brand names. It also set up a compensation fund for the families of the dead and injured.

    The fact that, 20 months down the line, there are still delays in paying compensation, that inadequate funding exists for building and other safety issues and that 80 000 of these potentially deadly hazards were discovered in the first-ever audit of factories is shocking. As is the fact that the 80% pay rise to many garment workers only brought their monthly pay up to about R700 and that Italian fashion house, Benetton, refuses to support the Accord.

    But the lessons for South Africa came to the fore when the spotlight was again cast on the Bangladeshi garment industry during a session at the UNI Global Union world congress in Cape Town this week. In graphic and in sometimes gruesome detail, it also provided a clear answer to the continuing deregulation chorus of local free marketeers.

    These are the cheerleaders of what the labour movement rightly calls the race to the bottom. They call for the scrapping of labour laws and denounce trade unions as wreckers.

    Yet the anarchy they promote exists in countries such as Bangladesh where people can literally be worked to death in toxic environments.

    As Jyrki Raina, general secretary of the IndustriALL Global Union told the Cape Town congress, 700 workers had already died in factory fires in Bangladesh before Rana Plaza drew the world’s attention to conditions in that country.

    Raina proudly announced that the T-shirt he was wearing was made in South Africa. What he did not say was that most of our ready-to-wear garments are now imported, many of them from sweatshops such as those in Dhaka.

    Just check the label on your shirt, skirt or trousers and look to the footwear you buy. These may carry famous brand names, but, almost without exception, they will have been made in countries where there is little respect for worker rights and for human rights generally.

    But there is the prospect of change. Because unions have followed business in ‘going global’. Courtesy of modern communications technology, links are being forged, even to factory level, with workers across continents.

    ‘We cannot allow business as usual,’ UNI Global’s commerce head, Alke Boessiger told the congress, a statement underlined by speakers from Argentina, Mexico, India and Brazil.

    But the difficulties faced are great. And although the congress was generally upbeat about prospects, Raina admitted that the problems ‘are huge’.

    In Bangladesh, despite the groundbreaking accord, only 50,000 of an estimated four million garment workers are members of unions. He noted that union organisers have been kidnapped, harassed and fired. Workers were also still labouring for 10 to 11 hours, six days a week.

    However, the congress also heard from Colombia — ‘the most dangerous place to be a trade unionist’ — that the battle for human and worker rights was making some progress. Change, it was stressed, is vital.


  4. Dear friends,

    An 8-storey garment sweatshop collapsed, burying alive thousands. Out of the horror, a ground-breaking compensation scheme was set up to hold corporations accountable. But one company — Benetton — won’t pay up unless we make this a PR disaster. Click to sign now:

    In just 90 seconds, an eight-storey sweatshop in Bangladesh collapsed. 1,134 people died. Some survivors sawed through their own limbs to escape. Out of the horror, the UN set up a ground-breaking compensation and corporate accountability scheme. Incredibly, it’s working — but survivors need our help to get one complicit company to pay up.

    Billion-dollar Italian clothing giant Benetton refuses to compensate the victims who made their clothes. It’s the only major global brand with undisputed links that hasn’t contributed. So far, they’re ignoring survivors and will get away with it unless it impacts their reputation. That’s where we come in.

    Benetton is prepping for Milan fashion week. It’s Italian fashion’s most important event of the year — and our opportunity to create a massive PR scandal. Click to demand Benetton pay up now and save this scheme. When we get to 1 million signers, we’ll embarrass them in a spectacular fashion week show they can’t ignore. Sign now:

    Typically when disaster strikes, multinational companies simply walk away. No more. For the first time the UN chaired Rana Plaza Arrangement brings together all the key players — the Bangladesh government, manufacturers, global retailers, and labour organisations. And if it succeeds, it would be a game-changer for corporate accountability, supply chain scrutiny, and workers rights around the world. But if Benetton flouts the scheme, other companies will copy them, and this chance to set a precedent for justice for victims will evaporate.

    Benetton is the only major international brand with confirmed ties to Rana Plaza that hasn’t joined up. While they earned profits of €139 million the year of the collapse, they argue their duty is done because they donated an undisclosed amount to a local charity. But charity is not the same as equitable compensation. The truth is this collapse was a disgrace of corporate negligence and ideally compensation would be mandatory, but as a minimum, the companies involved with this human tragedy should be forced to contribute to this voluntary scheme.

    For Benetton and other retail giants, brand reputation is everything — so let’s hit them where it hurts. The more of us who sign, the louder Benetton’s CEO will hear our message. Sign now to get justice for the Rana Plaza survivors, then share this with everyone:

    We know how to get corporate giants to act. After the building collapse, our community mobilised in massive numbers to force the world’s leading labels like H&M to sign up to a Fire and Safety Accord in order to prevent any more needless deaths in the pursuit of profit. Now, let’s come together once again to demand compensation for the families still waiting for help.

    With hope,

    Dalia, Oliver, Emily, Risalat, Mais, Ricken and the whole Avaaz team

    More Information

    Rana Plaza factory collapse survivors struggle one year on (BBC)

    Preventing Another Rana Plaza (Business of Fashion)

    BBC2’s Clothes To Die For documentary will make you question your need for endless, cheap fashion (Metro)

    Labour leaders call for adequate compensation (New Age)

    Rana Plaza Arrangement – Donors

    Benetton targeted over Rana Plaza compensation on International Human Rights Day (Clean Clothes)


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