Bangladesh : Rana Plaza Prosecution [Joint Statement]

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The 8 July 2015 decision by a Bangladesh court ordering that the inspectors charged with involvement in the Rana Plaza disaster be prosecuted is a positive step, declared FIDH and its member organisation in Bangladesh, Odhikar, who call on the Bangladesh authorities to move ahead with this case and to ensure accountability for all violations of workers’ rights in Bangladesh.

On 1 June 2015, police filed charges against 42 people for having contributed to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in April 2013 which killed over 1130 textile factory workers and injured more than 2000 others [1]. Among those charged were the owner of the Rana Plaza complex and government officials, including four government inspectors accused of mass murder for allowing the Rana Plaza building to be transformed into a factory complex and for helping the factory owners to secure factory licenses despite the factory building not meetings minimum safety standards. However, under Bangladeshi law, government ministries must give their approval in order for their employees to be prosecuted, and in this case the ministries refused to approve the charges against the four inspectors. On 8 July 2015, Senior Judicial Magistrate, Mohammad Shahinur Rahman, ordered the Bangladeshi government to allow the case against the four inspectors to move ahead, and gave the prosecution until 18 August to resubmit the charges against the inspectors.

This decision by the court is an important step towards ending impunity for violations of workers’ rights and ensuring that victims of the Rana Plaza disaster are given some form of justice. However, while this decision contributes to accountability and rule of law in Bangladesh, violations of workers rights are still rarely investigated or prosecuted. For example, violations of factory safety standards are still widespread, and the Bangladeshi government has largely failed to take appropriate action to bring those responsible to justice, including the owners of Tazreen Fashion, whose factory caught on fire on 24 November 2012, killing 112 workers who were trapped inside due to a lack of fire exits. In addition to violations of factory standards, there is ongoing targeting of trade union activists and workers who organise to protect their rights, which also takes place with impunity. The disappearance and murder of Aminul Islam, a trade unionist whose mutilated body was discovered on 5 April 2012, has yet to be properly investigated. FIDH and Odhikar have previously called upon the Bangladeshi government and multinational enterprises to respect the rights of workers in the textile industry and ensure accountability for violations [2].

Another violation of workers rights that is commonplace in Bangladesh is the withholding of salaries. Factory workers are currently staging peaceful sit-ins across the country in support of the workers of Swan Garment Private Limited, who have not been paid their allowances and wages for three months. Such peaceful demonstrations often risk violent reactions from the industrial police, which target workers representatives and groups that publicly demand respect for labour laws.

FIDH and Odhikar again urge the Bangladeshi government to allow the prosecution of all those charged with the Rana Plaza collapse to move forward, and to ensure accountability for all violations of workers rights and safety. In particular, the accords agreed upon following the Rana Plaza disaster must be upheld, and victims of the disaster must be given justice and adequate compensation. The Bangladeshi government should also publicly report on any initiatives taken to ensure justice is afforded to victims and their families. FIDH and Odhikar further urge the Bangladeshi industrial police to cease harassment of workers representatives and unions and allow all workers to exercise their rights to collective action, and urge factory owners to pay pending salaries and bonuses to all workers.

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