Labour leader returns after arrest in US

Bangladeshi labour leader Kalpona Akter, who was arrested in the US for two hours on Thursday, returned to Dhaka yesterday after she was released on bail from an American court.

Akter, along with 26 American union leaders, made their way in to the headquarters of The Children's Place, a major customer of a factory housed at Rana Plaza, to present a letter demanding just contribution to the trust fund for the victims.

The American retailer was supposed to put in $8 million to the $40 million-trust fund but has so far managed only $450,000. “The police told us to leave the building. We were heading to the elevator to leave when someone from The Children's Place told the police that they wanted to press charges, and then we were arrested,” she told British newspaper Guardian.

Subsequently, the New Jersey police charged Akter and her fellow demonstrators for trespassing, she told The Daily Star upon her return from the US. They were released after two hours upon presenting a bail from the court.

The next court hearing in this connection is on March 24. She is yet to decide whether she will physically appear in court, as she has already authorised her lawyers to act on her behalf.

Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, was in the US to drum up support in college campuses to get two major retailers -- The Children's Place and Benetton -- to stump in fair contributions to the Rana Plaza trust fund.


She was joined by Mahinur Begum, an 18-year-old survivor of the industrial disaster on April 24, 2013 that claimed more than 1,100 lives and injured thousands.

The trip was sponsored and organised by the International Labour Rights Forum, a not-for-profit advocacy group, and United Students Against Sweatshops, which has chapters on more than 150 college campuses.

Customs documents show that The Children's Place received shipments of more than 120,000 pounds from the New Wave factory inside Rana Plaza in the eight months to the building's collapse, with a large shipment arriving in Georgia 19 days prior to the fateful event, according to Guardian.

The Children's Place however said it was not having any garments produced in the building at the time of the collapse.

While Akter was upset over the arrest, she was far more worried about the reports circulating in her homeland about the purpose of her US visit, she told Guardian in an interview on Friday in New York City.

The local media were reporting that she was urging Americans to boycott garments made in Bangladesh. She said those reports made her sound like a traitor to the industry and to her cause, which is to help Bangladeshi workers.

“The allegations are flatly wrong. These jobs are important. My very clear message: 'We want these jobs, but we want them with dignity.' There is no point asking for a boycott,” she told Guardian.

Akter, 39, became a garment factory seamstress at 12, after her father became disabled by several strokes.

She said factory managers fired her when she was 16 because she was organising workers. She later became co-founder of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, which educates workers about their rights. 



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