John Kerry Backs Bangladesh Workers in Forming Unions

John Kerry Backs Bangladesh Workers in Forming Unions

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with leaders of Bangladesh garment unions recently in Dhaka, where he emphasized workers’ ability to freely form unions as key to workplace safety.

“Enhancing worker safety has to be paired with strengthening workers’ rights,” he told a group of 60 garment workers and allies.

“The fact is garment factories across Bangladesh actually could benefit enormously from empowering laborers, allowing them to form labor unions, affording them full collective bargaining rights, because no one should ever be compelled to work in hazardous or exploitative conditions. It’s really that simple.”

Worker Prosperity Possible with Worker Rights

At the event, which took place at the Edward M. Kennedy center in Dhaka, the capital, Kerry drew parallels between the efforts of Bangladesh garment union leaders to empower workers and Sen. Edward Kennedy’s strong support for working men and women.

“Bangladesh cannot truly meet the aspirations of its people and share prosperity if its workers are not safe and their rights are not ensured.

Kerry noted how “the $28 billion garment industry has played a uniquely important role” in the rise of Bangladesh’s economy. But he cautioned, “Growth on its own—growth just for its own sake—is not our only goal. You can grow and grow and grow and grow, but you can be growing with the wrong values, you can be growing with the wrong outcomes, you can be growing with people not gaining in their rights or in their income or in their ability to get an education.”

Kerry met with six garment worker union federation leaders: Babul Akter from the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF); Amirul Amin from the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF); Nazma Akter, Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF); Sritee Akter, Garment Workers Solidarity Federation (GWSF); Roy Ramesh, United Federation of Garment Workers (UFGW); and Raju from the Bangladesh Independent Garment Union Federation (BIGUF). Two factory union leaders affiliated with BGIWF, Munna and Rina, also attended.

Report: Freedom of Association Restrictions a Top Violation in 2013

Government restrictions and repression of citizens’ universal right to freedoms of assembly and association topped the list of violations in the State Department’s 2014 annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.” 

The report, released yesterday, also singled out the April collapse of the multistory Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers, as among the worst incidences of human rights violations in 2013.

The congressionally mandated report is not an intellectual exercise, said Secretary of State John Kerry in discussing the findings.

It is “about accountability. It’s about ending impunity. The struggle for rights and dignity couldn’t be more relevant to what we are seeing transpire across the globe.”

Get the overview and the full report.

Read Kerry’s statement.

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