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Home > Where We Work > Asia > Bangladesh
Bangladesh
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In Bangladesh, the Solidarity Center aims to advance worker rights and support its partners in the garment and seafood processing. Strong, independent 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.

 

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with more than 150 million people crammed into an area the size of Wisconsin. Its 60-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 ready-made garment factories, where production grew at double-digit rates throughout the 1990s, and many more work in export processing zones. Up to 1 million workers are part of Bangladesh’s burgeoning seafood processing industry. 

In 2004, a groundbreaking law allowed the first-ever creation of worker associations in export processing zone (EPZ) factories—a step toward genuine union representation. A 2006 labor code also seemed promising, although it maintained many restrictions on union and worker rights. But in January 2007, the government imposed a state of emergency that banned union activities. Employers took advantage of the situation to orchestrate systematic harassment of union leaders and break existing unions. Registration of new unions was suspended for the entire year, and the new labor code was not implemented. Employer-hired thugs routinely used intimidation and violence with little impunity, creating a climate of fear among union organizers and activists. Today, workers in EPZs still lack the freedom to associate and are not covered by the same labor laws as workers outside these zones.

In September 2007, the AFL-CIO filed a petition with the U.S. Trade Representative seeking to remove Bangladesh from the list of eligible developing countries under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). The petition specifically noted worker rights violations in the shrimp-processing and ready-made garment industries, as well as in the EPZs. As a result, the USTR placed Bangladesh under continuing review to monitor its progress toward a set of worker rights benchmarks. The state of emergency was lifted in December 2008. In April 2009, the AFL-CIO reported that the government and employers of Bangladesh had taken some steps forward, but because of concerns about ongoing worker rights violations, it requested continuation of the review. In March 2013, the U.S. Government held a hearing to collect further information on the status of labor rights in Bangladesh and expects to make a decision in June.

In November 2012, a devastating fire at the Tazreen factory killed at least 112 workers and injured many others. Smaller fires or fire-related incidents have been reported at a rate of more than six per month. 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. 


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, 2013The 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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