HRW for trade union in RMG
Human Rights Watch has urged Bangladesh to stop garment owners from intimidating and threatening workers for organising trade unions and to prosecute those responsible for attacks on labour leaders.
Foreign buyers, including major US and European retailers, should ensure that Bangladeshi garment suppliers respect labour rights, the New York-based rights body said in a report published yesterday.
The rights body interviewed 47 workers of 21 factories in and around Dhaka to make the report.
Some workers told HRW that not only had their managers mistreated those, who formed trade unions, they had also threatened to kill the employees, the report says. Some union organisers said they were beaten up while some others said they had lost their jobs or had been forced to resign.
From the interviews HRW also learnt that factory owners sometimes used local goons to threaten or attack garment employees outside the workplaces and even when they were at home.
Bangladesh amended the labour law in July 2013 amid widespread criticism following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, which killed more than 1,100 people.
The labour ministry had refused to register all but a handful of unions, but the amendments provided for full freedom of association by workers.
More than 50 factory-level unions have been established, but since the law still requires union organisers to get support from at least 30 percent of a factory's workers before registering a union, employers' threats and intimidation make it a difficult task, especially at the industrial units employing thousands of people.
"The best way to avoid future Rana Plaza-type disasters and end the exploitation of Bangladeshi workers is to encourage the establishment of independent trade unions to monitor and protect workers' rights," said Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW.
The government has belatedly begun to register unions. It now should ensure that factory owners stop persecuting the union leaders and let them function, he added.
There are more than 5,000 garment units in Bangladesh. Both the US and the European Union suggested that Bangladesh's access to trade privileges in their markets was dependent on making urgent improvements in labour rights and workplace safety.
The government and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association should enforce the labour law and sanction companies that violate workers' rights, the rights organisation added.
After the Rana Plaza disaster, the US and the EU called on the Bangladesh government and the garment industry to improve labour rights situation.
In June 2013, the US suspended Bangladesh's trade benefits in its market under the Generalised System of Preferences.
The European trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, next month warned that Bangladesh might lose its duty-free and quota-free access to the EU market if it did not improve its labour rights situation and workplace safety. The EU will conduct a review this summer.
In order to regain the GSP status, the US says, Bangladesh has to enhance its monitoring and inspection of factories and impose increased fines and sanctions, including loss of import and export licences, on the garment units that fail to comply with labour, fire or building standards.