Marking the one-year anniversary of the murder of Bangladesh union leader Shahidul Islam, the Solidarity Center is demanding that the police investigation of his case be reopened to ensure that the main perpetrators of the crime are held accountable and that the persistent harassment and unfair labor practices committed against worker leaders in the country end.

A dedicated trade union organizer and leader of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), Shahidul was brutally attacked outside Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd. factory on June 25, 2023, in retaliation for his efforts to help workers claim their hard-earned, long overdue wages and benefits. He succumbed to his injuries in a local hospital.

Just 45 years old at the time of his death, Shahidul is survived by his wife, also a former union organizer, and two school-age children. He was the sole wage earner for his family. With bills, school fees and her cancer treatments to pay for, Shahidul’s wife is struggling to get by.

While police in February submitted a charge sheet to the Gazipur court accusing 14 individuals in the murder of Shahidul Islam, including one administrative management official from Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd., trial dates remain to be set and the investigation is ongoing. Though it is positive to see that police have established a clear link between factory management and the crime, labor rights groups and Shahidul’s family argue that the investigation did not go far enough and that higher-level company officials were likely involved. 

“Shahidul Islam knew that without organizing rights, workers cannot collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions in far-flung supply chains,” said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “Today as we honor the legacy and memory of Shahidul, we stand united with trade unions and labor rights advocates everywhere in demanding justice for him and protection for the many committed organizers, workers and trade union leaders like him working to shift power dynamics and build worker power in the Bangladesh garment sector—the changes that he died fighting for.”

She added, “There is no alternative to strengthening protections for trade unionists so that they can exercise their fundamental rights without fear of retaliation or violence. And despite the many obstacles, we hope that change is coming.”

The Way Forward

Because of brave organizers like Shahidul Islam, the Solidarity Center has documented the formation of at least 134 independent garment sector trade unions since 2015. 

In light of the culture of impunity for worker rights violations that led to his untimely death, the Solidarity Center calls for accountability, justice and transformation. We also call on:

  • Brands sourcing from Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd. factory to take responsibility for their contribution to the conditions that led to Shahidul Islam’s murder by providing financial compensation to Shahidul’s family. All brands, regardless of whether they were directly or indirectly sourcing from Prince Jacquard, should recognize that their own supply chains are vulnerable to such a horrific event and should take concrete steps to monitor for and take swift action to address wage theft and any violations of freedom of association that occur.
  • The government of Bangladesh to ensure that workers’ right to freedom of association is upheld, as the free exercise of this right can safeguard workers and organizers from the kind of violence that killed Shahidul Islam. Concerted action in this area will demonstrate the government’s commitment to upholding fundamental labor rights.

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the News from The Solidarity Center