South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Garment workers face daunting challenges to unionization and remain at risk of interference and threats by factories, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

The government should urgently remove legal and practical obstacles to unionization, the US-based rights body said.

The April 2013 building collapse killed 1,100 garment workers and injured many others in the Bangladesh capital.

In July 2013, Dhaka committed to a Sustainability Compact with the European Union, pledging to reform labour laws. Yet its laws and rules governing labour rights and export processing zones still have rigid union restrictions, in violation of international law.

“Let’s remember that none of the factories operating in Rana Plaza had trade unions,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“If their workers had more of a voice, they might have been able to resist managers who ordered them to work in the doomed building a day after large cracks appeared in it.”

Only about 10 percent of Bangladesh’s more than 4,500 garment factories have registered unions, Human Rights Watch said.

While many factory workers have tried to form unions, government authorities have frequently rejected applications.

Bangladesh labour laws and procedures pose formidable barriers to founding and operating a union.

The law requires an unreasonably high 30 percent of workers in a factory to agree to form a union and mandates excessive registration procedures. The government has vaguely defined powers to cancel a union’s registration.

Factories also threaten and attack unions and their members with impunity.

Human Rights Watch has documented cases of physical assault, intimidation and threats, dismissal of union leaders, and false criminal complaints by factory officials or their associates against garment workers.

The Bangladesh authorities have failed to hold factory officials accountable for attacks, threats, and retaliation against workers involved with unions.

Updated On: April 21, 2016