In Bangladesh the Solidarity Center helped workers defend their right to organize and form a union.
When the 350 workers at Interstoff Clothing Ltd in the Gazipur area of Bangladesh decided to form a union with the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF), the company went to great lengths to stop them from organizing. Interstoff's massive anti-worker campaign included verbal and physical harassment, intimidation, denial of leave, forced transfers, and terminations.
With Solidarity Center support, BIGUF sent a letter to the company's primary buyer, Mothercare, outlining Interstoff's worker rights violations. Mothercare, headquartered in the U.K., is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). ETI members are obligated to protect and uphold worker rights standards in factories that are part of the global supply chain.
Mothercare quickly sent company representatives to meet with BIGUF and Insterstoff managers and threatened to pull orders if both parties did not resolve the situation by a certain deadline. As a result, Interstoff agreed to reinstate all terminated and transferred workers, to end physical and verbal abuse, not to interfere with the unionization process, and to bargain collectively in good faith with the union once it was registered. In return, the workers agreed to resolve disputes peacefully and request that Mothercare not pull orders.
But even though 70 percent of the 350 workers signed the appropriate paperwork to register the union, their application was rejected. The government illegally rejected several signed worker union authorization pledge cards. The International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers' Federation recently lodged a complaint with the International Labor Organization to investigate the Bangladesh government's refusal to register a union at another factory.
The Garment Industry in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, about 1.8 million workers are employed in the garment industry; 85 percent are female.
The garment industry is the largest industry in the country; in 2001, it accounted for 78 percent of the country’s merchandise exports.
The industry is plagued by low wages and human rights abuses.
Recently, the Solidarity Center helped pass a new law that gives workers the right to organize trade unions in Export Processing Zones.