FIDH expresses deep concern at the unrest in the garment industry in Bangladesh

Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) sent a letter today to the Bangladeshi authorities expressing its deep concern at continuing unrest in the garment sector in the industrial areas around Dhaka. The unrest started on 20 May when a worker protest erupted in the FS Sweater factory in Dhaka, and rapidly spread to other factories.

Notwithstanding any acts of violence by workers, FIDH believes that the unrest arises from legitimate concerns on the part of workers regarding their working conditions. FIDH strongly opposes the false belief of many factory owners and government officials that national and international NGOs working on human rights, workers’ rights, and women’s rights issues are conspiring against the nation and industry and were inciting the violence.

FIDH regrets that the minimum wage in the garment sector has not been reevaluated since 1994 and supports the demands of workers, local trade unions, and NGOs for a substantive increase in the minimum wage. FIDH is disappointed by recent events which have illustrated that workers work under sometimes unhealthy and even dangerous conditions, suggesting that labor inspectors may be insufficiently prepared to ensure compliance with applicable occupational health and safety regulations.

FIDH believes that a peaceful resolution of the problems faced by the workers could not be achieved because in most plants, they lack effective rights to organize and to bargain collectively. The lack of those rights is also a situation about which FIDH is particularly concerned. The FIDH therefore supports the requests of workers, local trade unions, and NGOs for a substantive increase in the minimum wage and for an improvement of working conditions.

FIDH condemns the brutality of the police towards demonstrators. FIDH is particularly concerned about allegations of mistreatment and torture of those arrested, especially trade union leaders, and about reports of the mistreatment of workers who have taken part in the movement by factory management staff or appointed people. FIDH calls on the authorities to immediately investigate the cases and prosecute perpetrators of acts of torture, in conformity with the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatments or Punishments which Bangladesh ratified in 1998.

FIDH welcomes the establishment of a tripartite Committee to examine the concerns raised by workers, and calls on all parties to implement the agreement reached on 24 May. Nevertheless, FIDH is concerned by reports of continued acts of violence against workers in some factories, despite the tripartite understanding. FIDH also welcomes the declaration made by investors in the EPZ (Export Processing Zone) that wages and overtime will be paid upon the reopening of the EPZ on June 8, 2006.

Finally, FIDH reminds the authorities that a number of foreign investors and international brands sourcing in Bangladesh are committed, with their suppliers, to respecting the fundamental rights of workers. These actors make their presence in Bangladesh conditional upon their ability to work in an environment that allows them to comply with applicable international human rights requirements. The ongoing situation may trigger their departure from Bangladesh, which would cause irreparable damage to the Bangladeshi economy and to the more than 2 million garment industry workers.

FIDH calls on the authorities to conform to their international human rights commitments, including labour rights, as a basis for an appropriate solution to the current crisis.

Read more