The top five clothing retailers who had earlier decided to boycott Dhaka Apparel Summit-2017 finally participated in the event yesterday as the government took measures for the release of the detained workers and labour leaders.
At the second version of the summit at Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka, garment makers, researchers, diplomats, ministers and other stakeholders discussed the future roadmap of Bangladesh's apparel sector.
H&M, Inditex (Zara), C&A, Next and Tchibo, which account for billions of dollars in annual garment purchases from Bangladeshi manufacturers, announced early this week that they would not participate in the summit as a mark of protest against the arrest and harassment of workers.
“But, finally we changed our decision as the government assured us that steps will be taken for the release of the detained workers and worker leaders, who were arrested at Ashulia for their alleged involvement in labour unrest in December last year,” said a top official of a major brand.
“There were a lot of changes in the climate and a lot of progress for the release of the detainees. The signing of the tripartite agreement for the release of the detainees is a major transformation,” the official told The Daily Star, asking not to be named.
The majority of the 35 Bangladeshi unionists and garment workers arrested since December last year have been released, and the remaining should be released shortly, according to a statement from IndustriALL Global Union.
This follows an international campaign led by IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union against the Bangladesh government's crackdown on the labour movement, the statement said.
A tripartite agreement was reached on February 23 between IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, the labour ministry and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, providing for the release of the arrested trade unionists and workers.
According to the agreement, those remaining will also be freed and cases against them will be disposed of. IndustriALL Global Union General Secretary Valter Sanches welcomed the decision of releasing the detained activists.
"We have seen an incredible show of global solidarity and this is an important victory for garment workers in Bangladesh, sending a strong message to the country's industry to enter into a constructive dialogue with the trade unions,” Sanches said.
“The issue that sparked the crackdown on unions at the end of last year still remains. We will continue to support the fight for higher wages and will closely monitor the situation until all charges are dropped.
“Around the world, we have seen effective global solidarity with protests in dozens of major cities across the globe. From Kathmandu to New York, people stood up to demand that Bangladesh respect human and trade union rights,” said UNI Global Union General secretary Philip Jennings.
“We welcome the release of the imprisoned unionists and hope we can begin to turn the page on Bangladesh's aggressive crackdown on labour. However, we must remain on guard – the message to Bangladesh is to respect labour rights,” Jennings said.
Amirul Haque Amin, president of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council and the National Garment Workers Federation, said: “As a legitimate representative of the Bangladesh garment workers, we have a platform. We will continue to fight for our members.”
US Ambassador in Bangladesh Marcia Bernicat said the tripartite agreement that was signed on the eve of the summit is a good part. But the US will be looking for several plans in this regard, she added. Bernicat said they will be looking for whether the workers and unionists have been dropped from the charges. “Some union leaders who were charged had nothing to do with the strike in Ashulia itself,” Bernicat said at the summit.
In the tripartite agreement, there is a promise of ongoing mechanism for resolving the problem.
“We need a neutral mechanism where all the parties can sit down and work out the crisis,” she said. This is the condition of the promise; if it happens then it is good, she said.
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed said retailers and international communities do not talk about raising the prices of garment items. They only talk about trade unionism, he said.