The Solidarity Center is appalled at the murder of Aminul Islam, a longtime friend and colleague. Aminul, 39, was a plant-level union leader at an export processing zone (EPZ) 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 left behind a wife and three children.
“I can accept his death from illness or an accident but not like this. I want justice,” said Hosne Ara Fahima, his wife.
In recent weeks, Aminul had been trying to improve the working conditions of some 8,000 garment workers employed by Shanta Group, a garment manufacturer based in the Dhaka EPZ. He was last seen Wednesday April 4, outside the BCWS office. Four days later, his wife recognized him in a newspaper photo of a body found by the side of the road more than 60 miles away. He had been violently tortured, according to police, and all of his toes were broken. Reports indicate that he was beaten before his death.
Aminul began his transformation to a trade union leader and organizer in 2005 when his co-workers elected him convener of the Workers Representation and Welfare Committee at Shasha Denims Ltd., a garment factory located inside the EPZ in Savar, Dhaka. Trusted by his co-workers, Aminul took his duties as a worker representative seriously. For his activities, he was terminated from his job. Aminul did not accept the severance offered to him and appealed his case to the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) with the aid of the Solidarity Center. BEPZA ordered his reinstatement, but the company refused to comply and proffered a Writ Petition in the High Court of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Since then the company has paid a partial monthly salary to Aminul as long as he does not return to work or the Writ Petition is disposed of.
After Aminuls’s association with the Solidarity Center, the BCWS hired him as a trainer and, at the same time, he joined BGIWF, a BCWS ally, as an organizer. The Solidarity Center has been working with the BCWS since the 1990s through BGIWF to educate garment workers about their rights under Bangladeshi law and international labor standards. In 2010, Aminul was arrested and beaten for his role as an activist.
“Aminul was a very hardworking and serious organizer,” said Babul Akter, BGIWF president. “He used to recruit an average of over 200 workers per month as associate members of BGIWF.”
“We had to tell Aminul to take a break sometimes because he didn’t know when to stop. He was always on the go, talking with and representing workers”, said Kalpona Akter, a colleague and executive director of BCWS. Rukshana Yasmin, a program officer with the Solidarity Center in Bangladesh, said, “Every time we had a meeting or training, I would tell Aminul to please bring 20 workers; he would bring 30 or more. Aminul is a problem solver. Many workers would go to the office wanting him to represent them in disputes with management. The office is always full of workers. With all the influence he has, Aminul was always humble and respectful.”
“Aminul Islam is a progressive Muslim,” said Akm Nasim, Solidarity Center senior legal counsel. “I had numerous discussions with him about union matters as well as religion where he was also well versed, and he is very opposed to fundamentalism.”
Aminul Islam’s eldest daughter, Akhi, said, “My father’s dream when he recently sold our house and bought some land was to build a madrassa (religious school) for girls and for me to be a teacher and administrator of the school. Our father has inspired us to take up the work of God.” She added that she and her twin brothers, Sakib and Rakib, miss their father very much.
Calls for justice for Aminul have been sent from numerous organizations to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, asking that an immediate and impartial investigation be carried out at the highest level and that the perpetrator of the murder be brought to trial and prosecuted. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was one of the first to send a letter to the prime minister. Others include Human Right Watch, the International Trade Union Confederation, Worker Rights Consortium, International Labor Rights Forum, Clean Clothes Campaign, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing Employers Association (BGMEA), and the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena.
In a statement, Mozena expressed profound sadness at the loss of this dedicated union activist. “Mr. Islam worked tirelessly to confront the challenges and risks facing workers in the garment industry in Bangladesh,” he said. “His death is a reminder of the need to support labor activists around the globe, as they struggle to improve the plight of their fellow workers and the economic situation of their families. We call on the government of Bangladesh to fully investigate Mr. Islam’s death and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”
More than 300 workers and trade union leaders formed a human chain at the Press Club in Dhaka on Friday April 13, to call for Justice. A delegation of four European Union mission diplomats participated and extended their solidarity.
On Sunday April 15, more than 1,000 workers held another rally at the Press Club and then marched to the office of the Home Ministry. A delegation met with Home Minister Shahara Khatun. After the presentation of the memorandum calling for an immediate, impartial, and professional investigation of the murder, Minister Shahara Katun said that she had already ordered the Inspector General of the Police to conduct a full inquiry and bring the culprits to justice.
“The government of Bangladesh‘s failure to implement and uphold freedom of association in the garment industry has led to the death of Aminul Islam,” observed Alonzo Suson, Solidarity Center country program director for Bangladesh. “He was a victim of violence perpetuated by those who oppose worker rights in the industry. But he would want labor unions in the garment industry to work together, develop a strategy, and organize to overcome the strong resistance to trade unions.”