South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

An international human rights group has accused authorities of harassing and intimidating garment worker leaders and rights activists, saying 34 of them have been arrested since December on charges it alleged were politically motivated.

has the world’s second-largest garment industry, which supplies many Western retailers and is vital to the developing country’s economy.

Workers from 20 factories stopped working and blocked roads during the protests December 11-19 in an industrial zone near Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Factory owners rejected the demand and temporarily closed many factories, and police began making arrests. The protesters demanded a monthly minimum wage increase from 5,300 takas (USD 67) to 15,000 (USD 187) or 16,000 (USD 200).

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement yesterday that the authorities should respond sensibly.

“Targeting labor activists and intimidating workers instead of addressing their wage grievances tarnishes Bangladesh’s reputation and makes a mockery of government and industry claims that they are committed to protecting worker’s rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Global garment brands sourcing from and aid donors should press the government to stop persecuting workers and labor rights activists.”

A rights activist told The Associated Press today that many have been facing “systematic harassment” and they needed to go into hiding after the chaos at Ashulia area in December.

“We work for the workers but we are facing crackdown, I will call it crackdown. We are being intimidated,” Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Center for Worker Solidarity, told AP by phone from a jail gate where she went to receive two of her colleagues who got bail.

Akter said their offices at Ashulia were forcibly closed by police.

“This is unfortunate as we don’t act against the industry, we work for the workers’ rights,” she said.

Authorities could not be reached for comment immediately, and calls to the president of the Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association remained unanswered.

Updated on: February 16, 2017