Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Bangladesh government to investigate garment workers and union leaders' allegations of arbitrary dismissals and false criminal cases following a recent protest demanding a wage hike.
The New York-based organisation in a statement on Wednesday said, global garment brands sourcing from the country should also investigate these allegations and call for an end to all forms of intimidation of workers,
After strikes in mid-January 2019, union leaders have reported at least 7,500 garment workers have been dismissed from their jobs.
At least 29 criminal cases have been filed naming 551 individuals, as well as over 3,000 unidentified people, leaving workers at risk of being arbitrarily accused in one of these cases at a later date. Over 50 workers have been arrested, 11 of whom were denied bail, the HRW statement added further.
“Bangladesh has made international pledges to ensure worker safety and protect their rights, but is falling short of its commitments when workers strike to demand a livable wage,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Factories in Bangladesh should not use false criminal complaints and mass terminations to stifle workers’ collective action,” he said.
Over 50,000 garment workers in Dhaka, Ashulia, Narayanganj, Savar, and Gazipur districts participated in wildcat strikes in mid-December and again in mid-January, protesting wage changes that went into effect December 1, 2018.
In December, union leaders said that government officials had threatened them in public and private settings that they would be arrested or disappeared if the protests continued ahead of the December 30 general elections.
When protests were organised again in January, Bangladesh police used water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets against them, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. One worker was killed and over 50 injured, it said.
The Human Rights Watch interviewed eight witnesses to the police violence, 14 dismissed workers, and three union leaders, and also reviewed lists of fired workers and dismissal notices posted on the factories.
Brands sourcing from Bangladesh like H&M, KiK, Tchibo, Lidl, Mango, Next, Matalan, VF, Takko, ALDI, Marks & Spencer, Esprit, Walmart, JCPenny, and Tesco have the responsibility to respect and protect workers’ rights.
They should call for an end to dismissals based on the exercise of basic rights and other forms of intimidation, Human Rights Watch said.