New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch on Wednesday urged the Bangladesh government to immediately investigate garment workers and union leaders’ allegations of arbitrary dismissals and false criminal cases following the recent wage protest.
In a statement, HRW also urged the global garment brands sourcing from Bangladesh to investigate the allegations and called for an end to all forms of intimidation of workers.
It said that after strikes in mid-January 2019, union leaders had reported sacking of at least 7,500 workers from their jobs, some of those were accused of vandalism and looting, but the allegations appeared broad and vague.
‘At least 29 criminal cases have been filed naming 551 individuals, as well as over 3,000 unidentified people, leaving workers at risk of being arbitrarily accused in one of these cases at a later date. Over 50 workers have been arrested, 11 of whom were denied bail,’ the statement read.
HRW made the statement after interviewing eight witnesses to the police violence, 14 dismissed workers, and three union leaders, and also reviewing lists of fired workers and dismissal notices posted on the factories.
‘Bangladesh has made international pledges to ensure worker safety and protect their rights, but is falling short of its commitments when workers strike to demand a livable wage,’ said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW.
Over 50,000 garment workers in Dhaka, Ashulia, Narayanganj, Savar, and Gazipur districts participated in wildcat strikes in mid-December and again in mid-January, protesting at wage changes that went into effect on December 1, 2018.
Quoting union leaders, the statement alleged that the government officials had threatened them in public and private settings that they would be arrested or disappeared if the protests continued ahead of the December 30 general elections.
The rights group, referring to witnesses, alleged that when protests were organised again in January, police used water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets against them.
On January 8, Sumon Mia, 22, was shot and killed during the protests by the police.
Also on January 8, police raided the Savar neighbourhood outside Dhaka where many workers live, seeking people, who had participated in the protests.
According to the statement, the union leaders had told HRW that many workers were in hiding out of fear of arbitrary arrest under these unnamed cases.
‘Brands sourcing from Bangladesh like H&M, KiK, Tchibo, Lidl, Mango, Next, Matalan, VF, Takko, ALDI, Marks & Spencer, Esprit, Walmart, JCPenny, and Tesco have the responsibility to respect and protect workers’ rights. They should call for an end to dismissals based on the exercise of basic rights and other forms of intimidation,’ HRW said.
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