Bangladesh government cracks down on workers' rights monitors

28 January 2008 - 4:09pm
Press release

- Living wage/trade union monitors detained - Fears for safety of researchers behind recent media stories

Labour Behind the Label (LBL) and War on Want have joined calls for the release of a Bangladeshi workers' rights researcher. Researchers and activists who have brought the plight of Bangladeshi garment workers to the attention of the British public over the past two years [1] may be next in the military government's 'abusive' crackdown, they say.

Labour Behind the Label has written to all British fashion brands sourcing from Bangladesh,[2] calling on them to make formal enquiries to the Bangladeshi government about the detention of Mr Mehedi Hasan, a researcher for the US-based Worker Rights Consortium (WRC).[3]

Mr Hasan, a Bangladeshi national, was detained on January 24, in Dhaka, by the Bangladesh intelligence service and is currently being held for interrogation. It appears that the government plans to bring a number of criminal charges against him under Bangladesh?s Emergency Powers Rules, including incitement to riot [4] and/or destruction of property and sedition [5].

mehedi_hasan
Mehedi Hasan, detained Bangladeshi researcher

The letter from LBL states: "It is clear that Mr. Hasan's arrest is related to the labour rights monitoring work he has performed on the WRC's behalf. Labour rights advocates in Bangladesh are very concerned that the security forces will physically mistreat Mr. Hasan...All of these charges are false to the point of absurdity."

The detention of Mr. Hasan is part of a wave of state harassment of labour rights organisations in Bangladesh.[6] It follows the arrest earlier in the week of a labour rights educator from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center,[7] who was taken while participating in a workers? rights clinic. The government has also issued charges against the leaders of several leading labor unions, including the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation and the National Garment Workers Federation, among others. LBL/War on Want believe that many other labour rights activists have now been forced into hiding.

Large UK companies such as Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Asda George are all major garment buyers from Bangladesh, whose industry has been plagued with allegations of workers rights' abuses and factory disasters.[1] The industry has been rocked by a series of strikes and riots over the past two years, triggered by low wages, long hours and trade union repression.

Sam Maher, from Labour Behind the Label, said: "All the brands sourcing from Bangladesh have signed up to sourcing principles that include freedom for trade unions to organise and represent workers. These recent events again call into question whether these promises can really be kept. UK brands should use their influence over the Bangladeshi government to ensure the quick release of Mr Hasan and the safety of other labour rights activists."

John Hilary, campaigns and policy director at War on Want said: "It is unacceptable that researchers should be locked up for defending workers' rights. We call for the immediate release of Mr Hasan and for the rights of all trade unionists to be respected."

CONTACTS Martin Hearson, LBL (+44) (0)7727 235391 Paul Collins, War on Want (+44) (0)7983 550728

NOTES [1] See, for example:

- Fashion Victims
- Asda, Primark, Tesco accused over Clothing Factories
- Let's Clean Up Fashion
- LBL Bangladesh page

[2] LBL has also written to the British High Commission in Dhaka and the Bangladeshi High Commission in London.

[3] The WRC monitors labour practices at apparel factories on behalf of universities and government entities in the United States. Mehedi Hasan is a contractor who has been working for the WRC since last June. He is responsible for conducting labour rights investigations in the apparel sector, which entails conducting interviews with workers (these take place off-site, rather than at a factory), gathering documentary evidence, and meeting with factory managers. The focus of these investigations is factories manufacturing goods licensed by WRC affiliate universities or for other entities with whom the WRC has a relationship (such as the City of Los Angeles). The purpose of this process is to implement the labour rights codes of conduct enacted by these entities or by apparel brands sourcing from the facilities. Most investigations are triggered by complaints, typically filed on behalf of workers by labour rights non-governmental organisations or unions. As a result, investigators develop strong working relationships with local civil society organisations.

[4] These allegations concern riots that took place some weeks ago in Mirpur

[5] For providing "sensitive" information to a "foreigner"

[6] Amnesty International has been campaigning against a situation in Bangladesh in which, it says, "familiar patterns of human rights abuse by the police, the anti-crime and anti-terrorism force Rapid Action Battalion, joint forces, security and other law enforcement officials continue with impunity."

[7] The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is a voluntary federation of 55 national and international labor unions.

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