Violence, False Arrests, and Thousands of Illegal Firings in Bangladesh

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Laura Gutierrez
Date:May 8, 2019
Re:Violence, False Arrests, and Thousands of Illegal Firings in Bangladesh

Please find here a new WRC report on the recent crackdown on garment workers in Bangladesh by government security forces and factory owners. While Bangladesh’s garment industry has seen vast improvements on safety, there has not been comparable progress in other areas, including wages. The current crackdown is a brutal response to peaceful protests by workers seeking to raise the country’s minimum wage, which is below 50 cents an hour. Since December 2018, 65 workers have been arrested and as many as 11,600 fired.

The WRC’s investigation, which involved interviews with more than 115 eye-witnesses and review of thousands of court records and factory documents, found that:

  • The wage protests were largely peaceful, with no documented cases of violence by participants;
  • The response by government security forces was characterized by indiscriminate use of physical force, including firing live ammunition into residential buildings;
  • Arrests and criminal charges arose from baseless complaints by factory owners; eye-witnesses placed some workers miles away from where they were alleged to have committed crimes; and,
  • The mass firings had no valid grounds under the country’s labor law and were carried out with disregard for lawful procedure.

The factory owners committing these abuses produce for many leading brands, including H&M, American Eagle, and Forever 21. The WRC has recommended that these and other relevant buyers press suppliers to withdraw bogus criminal complaints and reinstate illegally fired workers with back pay. The WRC is working with civil society organizations around the world to secure the release of the detained workers and urge brands to intervene.

We are glad to note that none of the factories known to have violated workers’ rights as part of this crackdown are disclosed as suppliers of collegiate goods; however, the repression has spread fear across the industry, impeding the ability of all garment workers to exercise their rights of free speech and association. The WRC has contacted all licensees sourcing collegiate product from Bangladesh to make them aware of the situation.

As always, please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.