Bangladesh Rights Advocates Released on Bail
September 15, 2010
I am very relieved to report that the leaders of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), who were jailed last month by the Bangladeshi authorities, have been released. A magistrate granted bail on the cases pending against Kalpona Akter, Babul Akhter and Aminul Islam, who are among the most prominent and respected labor rights advocates in Bangladesh. They were released Friday evening, September 10.
It is important to note that this does not end the legal jeopardy the BCWS leaders face – the charges against them still stand. Moreover, the group’s license to operate, revoked by the government in June, has yet to be reinstated.
Nonetheless, it is obviously a great relief to the leaders’ families, and to their colleagues in Bangladesh and around the world, that they have been freed on bail.
The work of BCWS has been central in the effort to defend worker rights and uphold the rule of law in Bangladesh. Levi Strauss and Company, in a recent letter, called BCWS “a globally respected labor rights organization, which has played a vital role in documenting and working to remedy labor violations in the apparel industry in Bangladesh.” Kalpona Akter, the group’s Director, is an extraordinary woman whose first involvement in the apparel industry was as a child laborer and who has gone on to build one of the most effective labor rights organizations in the world. The WRC has worked closely with Kalpona and the other BCWS leaders for many years and we have enormous respect for their integrity and their tireless labor rights efforts.
The persecution of the BCWS leaders is part of a campaign of repression against labor rights advocates in Bangladesh that has been condemned by labor and human rights organizations around the world, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. This campaign has involved a spate of arrests and detentions – and in some cases, brutal beatings – of labor rights advocates by government security forces. These actions appear to represent an attempt by the government to use these leaders as scapegoats for the worker unrest in the country. There have been waves of protests by apparel workers in Bangladesh in response to the government’s decision to implement a minimum wage increase that still leaves Bangladesh with the lowest wages in the world. Even after the increase, many workers in the country’s massive apparel export industry will be paid barely 20 cents an hour. The government’s campaign against labor rights advocates has been criticized not only by labor rights and human rights organizations, but by major brands and retailers.
The question now is whether the government will withdraw the multiple charges against the BCWS leaders, reinstate the group’s operating license, and cease the broader crackdown against labor rights advocates. These steps are essential, not only to ensure the liberty and security of the leaders who have been targeted, but for the future of labor rights in Bangladesh. If the government of that country will not allow legitimate advocates to do their work, then progress on labor rights will be impossible – as will the effective enforcement of applicable codes of conduct, including university labor codes.
There are numerous organizations in the United States, Canada and the European Union that are working to ensure justice for the BCWS leaders. These efforts have been aided by the active involvement of Members of Congress here in the U.S. and by diplomatic activity carried out by many governments. We are hopeful that the broad-based effort to secure a just resolution for the BCWS leaders will ultimately prove successful.
Please see below links to two newspaper articles covering the arrest and release of the BCWS leaders. We will update you on the situation as developments warrant.
News Articles Concerning BCWS: