Justice Delayed: One Year Since the Murder of Shahidul Islam

Justice Delayed: One Year Since the Murder of Shahidul Islam

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.
Shahidul Islam’s Legacy: A Background

Shahidul Islam’s Legacy: A Background

Over a 25-year career, Shahidul successfully mobilized thousands of workers to join trade unions and empowered them to represent their co-workers as factory-level leaders. As a young man he experienced the grueling reality of work in a garment factory. Overworked and underpaid, and despite the risk of management reprisal, Shahidul decided to take action to build a better future for himself and workers like him by joining the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) in the late 1990s. 

Shahidul learned the ropes of union organizing as a participant in the Solidarity Center’s three-year organizing internship program, enhancing his skills to build worker power. Subsequently, he joined the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), rising to the rank of president of the Gazipur District Committee. His influence extended to Gazipur, Rampura in Dhaka, and Narayangonj District, where he facilitated the formation of numerous factory-based trade unions, empowering workers to raise their voices for better wages and working conditions. As a trained paralegal of the Solidarity Center, he championed workers in claiming wages and benefits wrongfully denied by their employers. His remarkable ability to motivate and mobilize workers, collaborate with diverse stakeholders and navigate government processes significantly impacted the Bangladesh labor movement. 

How did it come to this? Lack of accountability, fear and repression

Shahidul Islam was killed outside Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd., a factory producing for buyers in Europe and North America, and a member of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). Prince Jacquard did not yet have a trade union, though Shahidul’s federation, BGIWF, had started supporting workers to organize not long before his death.

The global garment supply chain is notorious for its exploitation, sourcing from low-wage, minimally regulated countries where factories are rife with wage theft, union busting, forced overtime and other abuses. Multinational fashion brands outsourcing work overseas exercise economic power over suppliers—often under threat of yanking orders and moving production to more compliant factories—and make demands that lead to worker abuse but boost the brand’s bottom line. At the same time, these companies claim a hands-off relationship with suppliers in regard to workplace safety and basic worker and human rights, often hiding behind the façade of “corporate social responsibility” programs and audits. Indeed, Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd. had undergone outside audits by two different firms, Amfori and Sedex.    

Organizing an independent, democratic union that can represent the rights of workers and help them negotiate with their employers over issues like wage and benefit payments, can be a dangerous endeavor in Bangladesh. Once organized, the trade union registration process in Bangladesh is complicated, time consuming and plagued by corruption and interference from employers and their powerful associations. Workers regularly face unfair labor practices, such as illegal terminations, threats, harassment and violence. As in the case of Shahidul Islam, it is not uncommon for employers to hire local musclemen or mercenary members of management-dominated “yellow” unions to attack workers and organizers to prevent them from exercising their right to freedom of association. 

In fact, in the absence of due process for resolving collective disputes between workers and employers, efforts by workers to collectively stand up for their rights are often ignored or met with retaliation. Mere months after Shahidul’s murder, four more workers lost their lives and many more were severely injured during the 2023 workers’ protests for a fair wage. This calls into question the reports about progress on freedom of association in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the majority of global brands and buyers sourcing from Prince Jacquard Sweaters have remained unresponsive to repeated outreach by labor rights organizations calling on them to provide compensation to the family of Shahidul Islam, while those who did respond deny responsibility.



Marking this year’s Earth Day, the Solidarity Center is launching a new video about Bangladesh tannery workers’ campaign for safer, healthier and greener jobs. Available in English and Bangla, the video provides a window into one of the country’s most dangerous jobs and demonstrates how the tannery sector sits at the intersection of the worker rights and environmental justice movements.

Bangladesh’s leather sector, which satisfies one-tenth of world demand and whose exports of leather and leather goods totaled $1.1 billion in 2022, profits from a model that relies on low wages, lax workplace safety and unchecked environmental degradation. Its processes involve a stew of dangerous chemicals and heavy metals. Left untreated or flushed into waterways or surrounding areas, as happened in Hazaribagh, Dhaka, for decades, these substances pollute the environment, sicken workers and the local population, contaminate the air and water sources, and make food production dangerous. In Savar Tannery Industrial Estate in Hemayetpur—to which the government in 2017 ordered approximately 25,000 tannery workers and their families to move amid increasing international pressure regarding Hazaribagh’s toxic environmental and working conditions—factory sludge and effluents are not being effectively treated and new environmental threats are being created.

Meanwhile Bangladesh is one of the most acutely climate-impacted countries, with cyclones, flooding and extreme heat increasingly common. Around the world and in Bangladesh, climate change hits the poorest and most marginalized communities hardest. Worsening climate change, combined with environmental degradation in the workplace and surrounding communities, have compounding impacts on workers and their families.

A recent Solidarity Center survey of tannery workers living in Hemayetpur illustrates how the impact of industrial pollution, harsh working conditions and low wages is leaving workers, their families and their communities increasingly vulnerable to serious health issues and more frequent climate-related shocks in the country.

Workers said they have suffered exposure to fire or electric shock, falling, cutting, broken bones, heavy objects falling on them, contact with acid or chemicals, and inhalation of chemical fumes or gas. Health issues diminish workers’ earnings—which workers said were insufficient for covering basic needs. At the same time, costs have skyrocketed, including for transportation, which is made more challenging when regular waterlogging and flooding make roads impassable.

Local communities have reported that they are afraid or unable to grow food or catch fish, and note that just breathing the polluted air is enough to ruin their appetite. Poor water quality, meanwhile, adds to the burden of women’s care work, and more women than men mentioned now having to spend more time collecting water and doing so from greater distances.

“We used to cook with the water of [the] river. I used to bathe in the river. But we cannot do anything with the river water now,” a woman community member affected by the Savar Tannery Industrial Estate told the Solidarity Center last year.

With Workers, Toward a Safer, Greener, More Fair Industry

Because workers best understand the hazards and solutions to improving their jobs—and how they and their families are most disproportionately impacted by the health consequences of environmental degradation—workers are demanding inclusion in industry decision-making and wage-setting processes.

The Solidarity Center partners in Bangladesh with the Tannery Workers Union (TWU) representing those who—like others in Bangladesh and around the world—are suffering geographic displacement and other climate change consequences, as well as environmental degradation at work and in their communities.



Joining Together, Building Power, Ending Gender Violence at Work

Joining Together, Building Power, Ending Gender Violence at Work

Sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence are rampant in garment factories in Bangladesh and throughout the textile production and retail industry in South Africa, according to two recently published Solidarity Center reports. The sample surveys are among a broad spectrum of outreach by Solidarity Center partners who also are addressing gender inequities through awareness efforts among informal economy workers and workers with disabilities in Nigeria, in labor rights and career workshops in Armenia and Georgia, and among app-based drivers in multiple countries.

In addressing the root causes of GBVH in the world of work, a priority for the Solidarity Center, workers and civil society join together to advocate collectively beyond the workplace to push for policy and legal reform, expanding democracy.

November 25 marks the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an annual  international campaign in which union activists stand in solidarity with women’s rights activists to highlight the prevalence of GBVH at the workplace and to support feminist movements around the world in calling for a world free from GBVH. The campaign culminates on December 10, Human Rights Day.

As activists mobilize worldwide, here’s a snapshot of how Solidarity Center and its partners are moving forward efforts to end GBVH at the workplace and achieve decent, inclusive work for all.

Garment Industry: Rife with GBVH

Bangladesh garment workers, standing up to gender-based violence at work with their unions, Solidarity CenterBecause so little data exists on the prevalence of GBVH at workplaces, union activists and their allies in Bangladesh and South Africa sought to document workers’ experiences at garment factories and clothing outlets. Solidarity Center partners previously conducted similar studies in Cambodia, Indonesia and Nigeria.

In South Africa, 98 percent of the 117 workers surveyed said they had experienced one or more forms of GBVH at work. The Bangladesh survey found severe outcomes for workers who experienced GBVH at work, with 89 percent saying they “broke down mentally” and 45 percent reporting leaving their jobs temporarily and/or losing pay. The survey involved 120 workers in 103 garment factories and was conducted by 21 activists from grassroots and worker organizations.

In many cases, workers’ jobs and wages were at risk if they did not agree to sex with employers or managers. In Bangladesh, 57 percent of survey participants said they lost their jobs because they refused such overtures. As one survey participant in South Africa said:

“My manager called me to his office and said that if I want to extend my hours of work, I must go out with him. He kept on asking, even forcefully and aggressively … I heard from other women workers that he had also asked them.” Survey participants were not identified for their safety.

Both surveys were conducted through participatory action research, rooted in collaboration, education, developing skills and centered on a “Do No Harm” ethos to avoid re-traumatizing interviewees. Through worker-driven strategies to address and prevent GBVH in the garment sector, the processes created a set of recommendations including urging employers to enforce zero tolerance policies for GBVH and for unions to prioritize GBVH prevention and make women worker safety a core union priority.

Key to the recommendations is ratification and enforcement of an international treaty on ending violence and harassment at work. Convention 190 was approved by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2019 after a decade-long campaign led in part by the Solidarity Center and its partners. C190 now must be ratified by governments, and union activists are mobilizing members and allies in ratification campaigns that include awareness-raising about GBVH at work. South African unions, led by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), successfully pushed for ratification in 2021. 

Reaching Marginalized Workers

Nigeria, Lagos market, informal economy workers, gender-based violence and harassment at work, Solidarity Center

Amina Lawal, a Solidarity Center-trained GBVH researcher, leads the way for Nigerian Labor Congress leaders in Lagos’s Mile 12 market. Credit Solidarity Center / Nkechi Odinukwe

In Nigeria, union activists are using awareness raising to address the intersecting challenges facing workers with disabilities who also experience GBVH and gender discrimination at work. Through a weekly radio program and public service ads, the program elevates the voices of workers with disabilities who already are marginalized because of their status, providing a platform where they discuss their concerns around GBVH and access to equal rights to work and pay.

The program stems from recommendations in a survey of more than 600 workers with disabilities in Nigeria by the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) to create mass awareness of disability rights and GBVH. 

The radio program also is an avenue to reach workers in Nigeria’s large informal economy. Following the adoption of C190, union leaders at the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), with Solidarity Center support, began training vendors at the sprawling Mile 12 market in Lagos. The vendors formed a GBVH task force that worked with the NLC to develop a market code of conduct covering gender-based violence and harassment and helped raise awareness among vendors about their rights to a violence-free workplace. 

Their outreach resulted in the identification of multiple cases of rape and sexual assault against minors, who often assist their parents in the market. Five people have been arrested and now are awaiting trial for allegedly violating the rights of children between 9 and 14 years old, said Agnes Funmi Sessi, NLC Lagos State Council chairperson.    

Building Leadership Skills, Building Power

Armenia, professional development for young women, Solidarity Center, worker rights, unions

The OxYGen foundation in Armenia, with Solidarity Center support, held “Women for Labor Rights” seminars this year as part of its professional empowerment network. Credit: Solidarity Center

Building leadership and power within historically marginalized populations to take on issues and traditional hierarchies is a key part of Solidarity Center’s focus on ensuring equality and inclusion at the workplace. 

In Armenia and Georgia, young women workers are learning crucial employment skills as part of Strengthening Women’s Participation in the Workforce, a Solidarity Center-supported program in partnership with professional networks and other civil society organizations. The project seeks to increase women’s full, equal and safe participation in the workforce, including vulnerable women workers’ access to decent work. Training sessions include exposure to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions and other career development, and cover labor rights, including the right to a safe and healthy workplace. The programs reach women in rural areas, many of whom are marginalized with limited access to job opportunities and skills building.

In Armenia, where the project operates as the Women Professional Empowerment Network (WPEN), young women take part in an interactive exchange that fosters the development of a supportive network and includes upskilling and raising awareness of employment opportunities, along with advice and guidance about the most in-demand new careers.

Women Delivery Drivers Stand Strong Together

UNIDAPP President Luz Myriam Fique Cardenas, Colombia, platform workers, delivery drivers, app-based workers, gig workers

“Not just in Colombia, but worldwide, women are always the ones that are the most vulnerable and paid the worst”—Luz Myriam Fique Cárdenas. Credit: UNIDAPP_Jhonniel Colina

Addressing GBVH is an essential part of campaigns mobilizing app-based drivers to achieve their rights on the job, including the freedom to form unions, as the safety risks they face every day are especially compounded for women platform workers.

“Not just in Colombia, but worldwide, women are always the ones that are the most vulnerable and paid the worst,” Luz Myriam Fique Cárdenas told participants earlier this year at a Solidarity Center-sponsored event, Women Workers Organizing: Transforming the Gig Economy through Collective Action. “We suffer harassment. We don’t have security in the streets because we’re women,” said Cárdenas, president of Unión de Trabajadores de Plataformas (Union of Platform Workers, UNIDAPP) in Colombia. 

Recently in Mexico, the Solidarity Center hosted women delivery drivers from seven countries in Latin America and in Nigeria. The eight unions participating agreed on five key gender-focused points for inclusion in the Convention on Decent Work on Digital Platforms now being drafted for consideration by the ILO. The women leaders at the Alza La Voz (Raise Our Voice) forum are planning a joint campaign to ensure the convention addresses the specific challenges women app-based workers face. 

As throughout the campaigns to end GBVH at work, women app-based drivers are finding strength in joining together and experiencing the power to improve working conditions through collective action.

“We have to create alliances,” Shair Tovar, gender secretary of the National Union of Digital Workers (UNTA) in Mexico, told participants. “Women can achieve enormous things together.”

Shahidul Islam’s Legacy: A Background

Solidarity Center Condemns Murders of Union Leaders in Bangladesh, Honduras

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center Condemns Murders of Union Leaders in Bangladesh, Honduras


A garment union leader in Bangladesh and four garment union leaders in Honduras were killed over the weekend, murders the Solidarity Center and global union and human rights organizations are strongly condemning, and which they say highlight the need for employers and governments in every country to ensure workers can safely exercise their basic rights to form and join unions.

“The perpetrators of these horrific murders must be brought to justice,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “Assaults on workers and union leaders for trying to form unions and exercise their fundamental rights are increasing worldwide. These heinous actions highlight the growing attacks on democratic freedoms, and must be answered with strong measures to safeguard worker rights and all forms of democracy.”

Shahidul Islam, Bangladesh garment union leader murdered, Solidarity Center

Shahidul Islam. Credit: Shahidul Islam.

Shahidul Islam Shahid, a union leader in the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), was killed June 25 in Gazipur, after he and union co-workers met with factory workers to discuss how to address unpaid wages. The workers at the Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd. had not been paid in May or June and had not received their Eid-ul-Azha holiday bonus. Shahidul, president of  the BGIWF Gazipur District Committee, agreed to take up the issue with the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments at Tongi the next day.

When Shahidul left the factory after the discussion, a group of assailants stopped him. They shouted at him, “You are here for workers’ pay!” and started viciously punching and kicking him. The perpetrators beat him unconscious and left him on the road. Bystanders took him to a nearby hospital, where was pronounced dead. Shahidul, a father of two, was the sole financial supporter of his family. His wife is suffering from a life-threatening illness.

Two union leaders with Shahidul were injured and hospitalized, Mustafa Kamal, 26, and Ahmed Sharif, 35. One man has been arrested, according to union leaders.

Eleven years ago, Aminul Islam, president of BGIWF and union organizer with Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, was tortured and murdered. Both Shahidul and Aminul were key Solidarity Center partners, which recognized their dedication to the worker movement.

In a statement, the Solidarity Center says it joins BGIWF “in demanding that all stakeholders, including global brands sourcing in Bangladesh, hold suppliers accountable to basic human rights standards in garment factories.

“We call on the government of Bangladesh to step up their protection of trade unionists who are exercising their fundamental rights to organize—rights protected under Bangladesh and international law.”

Following Shahidul’s murder, garment workers across the export-processing zones staged protests, and in Dhaka, they formed a human chain in front of the National Press Club, demanding immediate arrest of the perpetrators. Garment factories account for more than 80 percent of Bangladesh’s $52 billion export market, yet workers receive low pay and unsafe conditions.

Honduras Union Leaders Killed During Factory Talks

In Choloma, Cortes, Honduras, 13 people were massacred, including four union leaders from the Sindicato de trabajadores de Gildan Activewear San Miguel (SITRAGSAM) over the weekend.

Honduras, Xiomara-Cocas, SITRAGSAM-President, murdered union leader, worker rights, Solidarity Center

SITRAGSAM President Xiomara Beatriz Cocas, former president and current delegate, Delmer Josue García, delegate José Rufino Ortíz and delegate Lester Arnulfo Almendarez. Eduardo Alexander Melendez, the son of SITRAGSAM president Xiomara Cocas, also died when armed assailants entered a billiards hall where the group was celebrating a birthday, and began firing.

The attack took place in the same week in which the union had received the announcement from apparel maker the Gildan corporation announced it was shuttering its Gildan San Miguel factory. The union was in initial discussions about the closure, which will leave 2,700 workers unemployed.

News reports from Honduras offer varying reports from social media on how the murders took place. One source cited nearby residents as reporting intense shooting, with targets ordered to lie face down before being shot.

The Solidarity Center is calling on the Honduran government “to take all necessary measures to fully investigate these crimes and bring those responsible to justice” and “to ensure the safety of the workers employed in the area, especially those who join together to defend their rights and represent their collective interests.”


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