The Solidarity Center and the international worker rights movement are commemorating Bangladesh union leader Aminul Islam, who was brutally murdered one year ago today. His murderer or murderers remain at large.
Aminul, 39, was a plant-level union leader at an export processing zone in Bangladesh, an organizer for the Bangladesh Center for Workers’ Solidarity (BCWS), and president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation’s (BGIWF) local committee in the Savar and Ashulia areas of Dhaka. He and his wife had three children.
In November, investigation of his murder was transferred to the Bangladesh Criminal Investigation Department, a move demanded by the Committee for Justice for Aminul Islam, of which the Solidarity Center is a founding member. To date, no arrests have been made.
“Aminul gave his life trying to achieve justice for millions of Bangladesh workers,” says Solidarity Center Asia Director Tim Ryan. “Yet the Bangladesh government has not expressed urgency in bringing justice to Aminul and his suffering family by identifying, locating and prosecuting those who murdered him.”
Aminul’s murder received worldwide condemnation, including from the global union movement, major apparel industry associations, U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan Mozena and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In recent months, the Bangladesh government issued a reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect in the case.
Aminul, who was on his way to a mosque after work April 4, was later found dead by the side of a road more than 60 miles from his home, his body tortured and beaten. Since his murder, more than 100 Bangladeshi garment workers have been killed on the job, including 112 workers at a horrific fire in the Tazreen Fashions factory in November. Aminul sought to change the conditions that have led to the dozens of fires that broke out at Bangladesh factories in the last year alone. He believed that the locked factory doors and lack of fire safety measures—which have led to unacceptable death tolls—could most effectively be addressed by workers who freely form unions and collectively bargain to improve workplace safety and health conditions.
Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest clothes exporter with overseas garment sales topping $19 billion in 2011, or 80 percent of total national exports. Yet garment workers in Bangladesh essentially risk their lives each day on the job for the equivalent of $37 a month—the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty.
The Bangladesh government recently has submitted a new safety plan for garment factories, though it has yet to be implemented or tested. Currently only a small percentage of the country’s thousands of garment factories see inspectors or face consequences when they do not meet safety or building codes. “We support any effort to ensure that workplaces are not death traps,” said Ryan. “However, promises are not progress. And when workers are not included in the process, such measures tend to fail.