WRC Statement in Response to Murder of Shahidul Islam

The WRC stands with the international labor rights community in mourning and condemning the devastating murder of longstanding union leader, Shahidul Islam of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF). Our thoughts are with his wife and sons, and the union movement in Bangladesh that he tirelessly dedicated 25 years of his life to supporting, after working as a garment worker himself.

The first information report filed at the Tongi (West) Police Station on June 26 indicates that Shahidul was attacked outside of the Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd. factory in Dhaka on the evening of June 25. This happened following a peaceful meeting with factory management to discuss the outstanding payment of two months’ wages and Eid festival bonus owed to hundreds of garment workers at the export-oriented factory. According to the report, Shahidul, who was with two other union organizers, was repeatedly punched and kicked by a group that berated him for demanding workers’ pay until he was unconscious and later declared dead at a nearby hospital. The WRC has not independently confirmed all details of the police report, however, we have sufficient information to be certain that Shahidul was attacked in retaliation for advocating for the rights of the Prince Jacquard Sweaters workers.

The ability of trade unions and workers to collectively organize to ensure their basic rights is severely constrained in Bangladesh, where independent union density in garment factories is low and workers frequently face serious retaliation for organizing efforts. Murder and violence directed toward trade unionists and workers serves to further threaten the ability of workers to exercise fundamental associational rights protected under Bangladesh and international law. A thorough and independent investigation of this incident is necessary and the outcome of this will have profound impacts on the future of worker rights in the country.

The 2012 abduction, torture, and murder of prominent labor advocate Aminul Islam, of Bangladesh Center for Workers’ Solidarity (BCWS), shocked the international labor community, with his death understood to be in retaliation for his dedication to labor rights advocacy. Over a decade later, his murder remains unresolved and repression and violence against union leaders has continued.

The WRC is deeply saddened for the BGIWF, BCWS, and the broader union community in Bangladesh who are facing these devastating circumstances once again. We stand with these leading labor groups who have long helped to expose and address labor rights violations at collegiate factories in Bangladesh.

photo credit: Shahidul Islam