In Bangladesh, the Solidarity Center aims to advance worker rights and support its partners in the garment industry and in seafood processing. Strong unions capable of protecting worker rights can ensure safe and productive workplaces and constructive labor-management relations, enabling Bangladesh's overall economy to strengthen and flourish.
|Tens of thousands of Bangladesh workers rallied on the one-year anniversary of the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster. Photo: Jennifer Kauffman
Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with roughly 166 million people living in an area the size of Wisconsin. Its 78-million-member workforce is primarily made up of farmers—tea and rice are two important crops. Some 4 million workers, mostly women, are employed in 5,000 ready-made garment factories. Up to 1 million workers are part of Bangladesh’s burgeoning seafood processing industry.
In November 2012, a devastating fire at the Tazreen factory killed at least 112 workers and injured many others. Since then, dozens of workers have been killed and hundreds more injured in fire incidents In April 2013, a commercial building, Rana Plaza, housing four garment factories, collapsed from severe structural instability (resulting from numerous building code violations). The disaster, the worst in the history of the international garment industry, killed more than 1,100 workers and injured thousands more. Workers at these factories did not have a union and were threatened with the loss of pay if they refused to return to work, even though they worried about safety conditions.
In June 2013, the U.S. government suspended its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) agreement with Bangladesh based on chronic and severe labor rights violations. Since then, the Bangladeshi government has made some positive moves, including allowing unions to register. Yet workers still report that employers harass them, verbally and physically abuse them and sometimes fire them when they try to form a union. Union organizers have been attacked and beaten while talking with garment workers.
In addition, garment workers and other industrial workers in Bangladesh’s export-processing zones are subject to a different, much weaker set of labor laws than workers in the rest of the country which do not meet international standards for freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.
Following the Rana Plaza tragedy, more than 150 corporate brands, mostly European, have signed on to the Bangladesh Accord on Building and Fire Safety which covers more than 1,600 factories in Bangladesh. Negotiated in 2013, the five-year Accord is set apart from all other previous safety agreements because it is enforceable. It provides legally binding assurance that the commitments to inspect and improve garment factories will be carried out and it ensures unions are a key part of the process.
Bangladesh: Employers, Workers Resolve Issues Together.
August 18, 2014—When 1,300 Bangladeshi garment workers started to organize a trade union at their factory in the Gazipur suburb of Dhaka, the capital, they faced an uphill battle.
24 Bangladesh Union Leaders Complete Fire Training
. July 11, 2014—Twenty-four garment worker union leaders and organizers in Bangladesh have completed a first-of-its-kind, in-depth training course on fire and building safety, conducted by the Solidarity Center and Selim Newaz Bhuiya, former deputy director of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense.
$11,537 Donated to Bangladesh Worker Rights Defense Fund.
July 7, 2014—The Solidarity Center’s Bangladesh Worker Rights Defense Fund has received $11,537 in contributions as of June 30 and donations already have assisted with medical bills for union organizers beaten while talking with garment workers and provided a one-month salary for union leaders assaulted and fired by management.
Bangladesh: New Garment Organizers Build Skills, Enthusiasm at Training
. CHITTAGONG, BANGLADESH, June 26, 2014—At a Solidarity Center training program for two trade union federations, 12 young organizers—most on the job for less than six months—were advancing beyond the basics of organizing and moving up the knowledge ladder fast.
Bangladesh: More Workers Fired after Forming a Union
.June 13, 2014—More than 60 workers at a Bangladesh washing facility have been fired since late April and at least one union leader has been physically assaulted in what their union says is a campaign to end union representation at the plant.
Bangladesh: Attacks on Union Leaders Escalate at Industrial Park.
May 28, 2014—More than a dozen garment factory union leaders in Gazipur, Bangladesh, have been physically attacked or threatened with violence and even death in the past two weeks, according to the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF).
Bangladesh Union President: Empowering Women Through Unions
. May 7, 2014—Nomita Nath gets many calls each day at the union office in Chittagong, Bangladesh, from garment workers seeking immediate assistance.
Thousands in Bangladesh Mark Rana Plaza Anniversary.
April 24, 2014—Thousands of
Bangladeshis began gathering before dawn at the site of Rana Plaza, the multistory building that collapsed one year ago today, killing more than 1,110 garment workers and injuring at least 2,500.
1 Year After Rana Plaza, Survivors, Families Struggle to Survive
. April 24 2014—One year ago today, as the walls of the multistory Rana Plaza building collapsed around her, Moriom Begum was trapped, injured and unable to move in the dark, surrounded by the lifeless bodies of her co-workers.
Rana Plaza, 1 Year Later: ‘I Cannot Find the Happiness of Life.’
April 23, 2014—On April 24, 2014, Shumi Akter was among the more than 1,100 garment workers who perished in the collapse of the multistory Rana Plaza.
Rana Plaza, 1 Year Later: 'My Husband's Life Was Valuable
.’ April 22, 2014—Rubina and her husband, Abdul Hamid, made enough to support themselves and their two children after they moved five years ago from a village to Dhaka. But their efforts to ensure an even better future for their children ended April 24, 2013.
Rana Plaza—1 Year Later: ‘Everybody Is Scared to Work after the Collapse.'
April 21, 2014—Most of the garment workers who survived the April 24, 2014, collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh say they have been so physically injured and emotionally traumatized, they are unable to ever again work in a garment factory.
Bangladesh: More Firings at Factory Where Workers Seek a Union
. April 18, 2014—Garment workers continue to be fired and harassed at the Taratex BD Ltd. factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh, according to the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF).
Rana Plaza—One Year Later: Living in Constant Pain
. April 18, 2014—When the multistory Rana Plaza building collapsed on April 24, 2014, in Bangladesh, Moriom Begum was trapped for two days in the room where she worked as a sewing operator.
Bangladesh: Workers Say They Were Fired, Attacked after Forming Union
. March 6, 2014—Workers at the Taratex BD Ltd. garment factory in Bangladesh have been targets of violence and mass firings, according to the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF).
Bangladesh Union Activists Press for Justice in Violent Attack.
March 5, 2014—More than 400 Bangladesh garment workers and trade unionists rallied over the weekend at the National Press Club in Dhaka, the capital, to demand police take action to find perpetrators who beat and badly injured a garment worker leader and four union organizers last week.
Garment Worker, Organizers Beaten in Bangladesh.
February 25, 2014—A Bangladesh garment worker leader and four union organizers, among them two women, were badly injured Saturday when about two dozen people beat, kicked and threw them to the ground as the five were speaking to workers in the dormitory where they live.
Empowering Workers in Bangladesh Export Processing Zone
. February 18, 2014—Garment workers and workers in other industries in Bangladesh’s export-processing zones are subject to a different, much weaker set of labor laws than workers in the rest of the country, and the government must take steps to reform laws so they meet international standards for freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, said A. K. M. Nasim, senior legal counselor at the Solidarity Center’s office in Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital.
Send Solidarity Greetings to Bangladeshi Garment Workers!
November 25, 2013—Nearly a year ago, 112 garment workers were killed in a fire at the Tazreen Fashion Ltd. factory—and a thousand others were injured in the scramble to escape a building with no fire escapes and firmly barred windows.
Tazreen Survivor, Tahera: I Am Too Afraid to Sleep.
November 25, 2013—Tahera, 23, has been so ill from the injuries she sustained in the November 24, 2012, Tazreen Fashions factory fire, her husband Roshidul has had to quit his job to take care of her.
Shahanaz, Tazreen survivor: Now My Life Seems Worthless.
November 25, 2013—
The only reason Shahanaz Begum is alive today is because she defied the factory manager who told her she could not leave the burning building.
Nasima, Tazreen Survivor: Day by Day, My Situation Is Getting Worse.
November 25, 2013—Nasima, 25, cannot breathe well nor see clearly. She speaks softly, too weak to raise her voice.
Raoshonara, Tazreen Survivor: No Option but Begging to Survive. November 25, 2013—Raoshonara is destitute. “I have no other option but begging to survive,” she said as she burst into tears.
Tazreen Survivor, Morsheda: We Poor Have Lost Everything. November 22, 2013—Morsheda could not travel to her home village in Bangladesh for the recent Eid holiday because she could not afford the trip.
Abdul: I Could Not Find My Wife’s Body. November 22, 2013——Mahfuza Khatun, 22, was a sewing machine operator on the fourth floor of the Tazreen Fashions garment factory when the multistory building went up in flames just outside Dhaka.
Tazreen Survivor, Anjuma: Days Pass by without Food. November 22, 2013—When someone knocks on her door, Anjuma knows a debt collector is probably on the other side.
Tazreen Survivor, Anjuara: Too Injured to Hold Her Child. November 22, 2013— Anjuara suffers from constant pain. She is too injured to work and unable to pay the rent.
Aferza, Tazreen Survivor: I Starve with My Kids. November 21, 2013—Aferza, 25, left her village in 2010 for Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, to escape poverty. She planned to help support her family and educate her children with the money she earned.
Tazreen Factory Fire: A Year Later, Survivors Feel Forgotten. November 19, 2013—A year after the deadly factory fire that killed 112 garment workers at Tazreen Fashions Ltd. in Bangladesh, survivors and the families of those killed and injured say they have been forgotten by the factory owner, international buyers and the government.
Six Months after Rana Plaza, Workers Struggle for Voice at Work. October 24, 2013—Today marks the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,200 garment workers, primarily women, and injured 2,500 more.
Experts: Bangladesh Accord Is a Game Changer. September 12, 2013—Panelists at the AFL-CIO convention workshop, Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord: A New Standard in Global Framework Agreements? said the accord represented a truly new approach to framework agreements and protecting worker rights.
U.S. Rep. Levin Meets with Bangladesh Factory Survivors. August 26, 2013—Rep. Sander Levin held three meetings with workers and union leaders to hear firsthand from survivors of the Rana Plaza and Tazreen factory disasters and to learn the obstacles garment workers face when seeking to form unions to improve the safety of their workplaces.
Bangladesh Reinstates Garment Worker Rights Group. August 9, 2013—The Bangladesh government has re-registered the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), a move that means the organization can fully function again and pursue its mission of educating workers about their rights.
Bangladesh Union Leader: Global Support Key for Working Women. August 4, 2013—Women around the world work make up the vast majority of workers in dangerous, difficult and low-paid jobs—and in Bangladesh, garment workers, the majority of whom are women, often risk their lives for a chance to support themselves and their families.
Bangladesh Media: Charges Dropped Against Worker Activists. July 10, 2013—Newspapers in Bangladesh this week reported that charges against two worker rights advocates will be dropped and that the search for the people who tortured and murdered labor leader Aminul Islam last year will receive new focus.
U.S. Trade Decision Key Step for Bangladesh Worker Rights. June 28, 2013—Workers in Bangladesh—especially millions of poorly paid garment workers who often risk their lives in dangerous factories—won a new tool to advance their rights when the United States suspended preferential trade benefits with the country.
U.S. Rep. Miller Meets with Bangladesh Garment Union Leaders. May 30, 2013—The freedom to form factory-level unions and negotiate job safety, living wages and fundamental social protections is key to any reform of Bangladesh’s labor laws, leaders and members of Bangladesh unions and worker organizations told U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).
Bangladesh Government Moves to Ease Unionization. May 14, 2013—The Bangladesh Cabinet approved a change to the nation’s labor laws that it says would enable workers to more freely form unions.
Bangladesh: Shoddy Construction Behind Building Collapse. May 3, 2013—More than 500 people have now been confirmed dead in last week’s building collapse in Bangladesh, the country’s worst industrial disaster on record.
Bangladesh: Deaths Exceed 300, Warrant Out for Building Owner. April 26, 2013—More than 300 workers now have been confirmed dead from Wednesday’s building collapse in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh: Deaths Exceed 300, Warrant Out for Building Owner. April 26, 2013—More than 300 workers now have been confirmed dead from Wednesday’s building collapse in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Fire Survivors Describe Hardships after Tragedy. April 25, 2013—“The factory caught fire about 6 p.m. After the fire, they did not allow us to go out,” says Nazma. “They locked the gate. The workers were screaming together.”
Sumi Describes Surviving the Tazreen Garment Factory Fire. April 25, 2013—The rising death toll from yesterday’s building collapse in Bangladesh and the recent workplace deaths at the fertilizer factory in West, Texas, serve as tragic reminders of how much more needs to be done to ensure the safety and health of workers around the world.
Solidarity Center Mourns for Workers Killed in Bangladesh. April 24, 2013—Another four garment factories in Bangladesh became death traps today, and the Solidarity Center is mourning the senseless loss of life and the grievous injuries that have befallen hundreds of workers who were simply trying to make a living.
Report Examines Garment Factory Fires in Bangladesh, Pakistan. March 15, 2013—A new report examining two massive fires at garment factories in Bangladesh and Pakistan finds that the deaths and injuries were “caused or exacerbated by illegal, unsafe buildings, faulty electrics or machinery, poor safety procedures and avoidable hazards such as blocked or inadequate fire exits.”
Bangladesh: Three Months After Tazreen Fire, Little Change. February 20, 2013—Three months after at least 112 workers died in the Tazreen Fashion factory fire, dangerous and deadly working conditions are commonplace for the nearly 2 million Bangladeshi garment workers, who have little recourse than to take jobs that may kill them.
Bangladesh: Seven Women Dead in A Preventable Factory Fire. January 28, 2013—Seven young women, at least two of them teenagers, died over the weekend in a Bangladesh garment factory fire—the 28th fire incident to frighten, injure or kill Bangladeshi garment workers since the Tazreen factory blaze killed 112 workers last November, according to Solidarity Center staff in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh: 17 Garment Fires Since 112 Killed in Tazreen. December 21, 2012—It has been nearly a month since at least 112 Bangladeshi workers died in the horrific fire at Tazreen Fashion Ltd garment factory.
Bangladesh Garment Workers Federation Pledges Action at Factory Level. December 14, 2012—When Kona, a textile worker in Bangladesh, tried to help her co-workers win better conditions on the job, she was harassed to the point where she and her husband were forced into hiding.
Bangladeshi Garment Workers Meet with U.S. Ambassador. December 12, 2012—Bangladeshi garment workers no longer are forced to stay on the job for literally weeks without a break and employers’ physical and verbal abuse has decreased—but significant improvements remain to be made in the country’s important garment industry, several garment union leaders told a high ranking U.S. State Department official last weekend.
Paying with Their Lives: The High Cost of Cheap Clothing. November 28, 2012—Last weekend, more than 110 garment workers died in a fire that burned the Tazreen Fashion Ltd. garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka.
Bangladesh Protests Deaths of More than 100 Garment Workers. November 27, 2012—The Solidarity Center joins the international labor and human rights communities in expressing sorrow over the unnecessary and tragic loss of life at a Bangladesh garment factory over the weekend.
Bangladeshi Garment Workers File for Union at Zilani Apparels. October 22, 2012—Garment workers at Zilani Apparels Ltd., in Rampura, Dhaka, Bangladesh, formed a union in August with the help of the Bangladesh Federation of Workers’ Solidarity (BFWS) and now are waiting for the Labor Department to register it.
INTERVIEW: Violence Rises against Bangladeshi Garment Workers. October 3, 2012—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)
Congressional Hearing Focuses on Worker Rights in Bangladesh. June 20, 2012—A senior Solidarity Center staffer and other regional and rights experts provided testimony in a human rights hearing yesterday on Capitol HillB focused on Bangladesh's longstanding failure to enforce labor laws and increasing violence against labor activists.
Bangladesh: Group Demands Full Investigation into Murder of Aminul Islam. June 14, 2012—Solidarity Center staff joined family and colleagues of Aminul Islam at a press conference last week to call for justice in Aminul’s murder.
U.S. Ambassador Warns against "Tarnishing the Bangladesh Brand." June 8, 2012—U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan Mozena warned garment industry leaders in Dhaka that recent developments in the ready-made garment industry, including the unsolved murder of union activist Aminul Islam, could coalesce into “a perfect storm that could threaten the Bangladesh brand” in the United States.
Solidarity Center Panel Keeps Focus on Worker Rights in Bangladesh. May 23, 2012—A report based on in-depth interviews with workers on conditions in shrimp-processing plants in southwestern Bangladesh was released by the Solidarity Center at a public launch on May 16.
Clinton Addresses Worker Rights, Calls for Justice in Aminul Islam Murder at Dhaka Town Meeting. May 10, 2012—Meeting with young Bangladeshi leaders at the International School in Dhaka, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton drew applause in fielding a question about repression of worker rights and the murder of union activist Aminul Islam, a longtime friend and colleague of the Solidarity Center.
New Solidarity Center Report Details Hard Life of "Voiceless and Vulnerable" Shrimp Workers in Bangladesh. April 23, 2012—Despite a labor code that addresses pay, working hours and on-the-job conditions, Bangladeshi shrimp-processing workers say they still face inadequate health and safety protections at work and receive less than the minimum wage, according to a new Solidarity Center report.
Solidarity Center Mourns Death of Aminul Islam. April 16, 2012—The Solidarity Center is appalled at the murder of Aminul Islam, a longtime friend and colleague.
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