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Interview: Violence Rises against Bangladeshi Garment Workers

Babul Akhter and Kalpona Akter spoke about conditions in Bangladesh garment factories. Solidarity Center photo.

This is an excerpt from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center's "INTERVIEW: Violence Rises against Bangladeshi Garment Workers."

The murder earlier this year of a Bangladeshi union organizer is part of an escalation of attacks on the nation’s 4 million garment workers who seek to change abusive working conditions, says Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS).

Akter, who just ended a visit to the United States sponsored by Vanderbilt University and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), worked closely with her BCWS colleague and factory union organizer, Aminul Islam, who was murdered earlier this year, his body found beaten and tortured. Islam also was a leader of Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF),  As recently as mid-September, Bangladesh police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at tens of thousands of garment workers rallying outside factories in an industrial area near Dhaka.

The violence against workers seeking to improve their conditions and the murder of a union activist have made workers fear forming unions. Although workers are willing to walk out of a factory demanding improvements, they are afraid to join a union because that could make them a target for firing or worse, says Akter, whose organization is a close partner of the Solidarity Center.

“They see the face [of Islam] when he was alive and see the face when he is dead, and they are afraid,” she says.

Representatives of the Bangladesh garment sector were among the 23-member delegation accompanying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who attended the 67th United Nations General Assembly in New York. They are urging the United States to allow duty-free access of their products.  Global labor rights activists say the Bangladeshi garment industry should not have such benefits until factory working conditions improve and violence against workers ends. 

The violence against Bangladeshi workers has captured the attention of human rights activists and policymakers in the United States. It was the subject of a human rights hearing in Congress and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a recent trip to Bangladesh, specifically addressed the unsolved murder of Islam.

Read the rest of "INTERVIEW: Violence Rises against Bangladeshi Garment Workers."

Learn more about the Solidarity Center at www.solidaritycenter.org

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