Garment workers in Bangladesh face poor working conditions and anti-union tactics by employers, including assaults on union organisers, said New York-based Human Rights Watch.
A HRW report released on Wednesday said in the two years since more than 1,100 workers died in the catastrophic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on April 24, 2013, efforts are underway to make Bangladesh factories safer, but the government and Western retailers can and should do more to enforce international labor standards to protect workers’ rights, including their right to form unions and advocate for better conditions.
“If Bangladesh wants to avoid another Rana Plaza disaster, it needs to effectively enforce its labor law and ensure that garment workers enjoy the right to voice their concerns about safety and working conditions without fear of retaliation or dismissal,” said Phil Robertson, HRW Asia deputy director.
“If Bangladesh does not hold factory managers accountable who attack workers and deny the right to form unions, the government will perpetuate practices that have cost the lives of thousands of workers.”
The 78-page report, ‘Whoever Raises Their Head, Suffers the Most’: Workers’ Rights in Bangladesh’s Garment Factories’, is based on interviews with more than 160 workers from 44 factories, most of them making garments for retail companies in North America, Europe, and Australia.
The HRW called on the Bangladesh government, factory owners, and Western retailers to ensure respect for workers’ rights and end the unlawful targeting of labor leaders by factory owners and supervisors.
While changes to some labor laws since Rana Plaza, including provisions easing the union registration process, have facilitated registration of new unions, still fewer than 10 percent of garment factories in Bangladesh have unions, it said.
Union leaders said they continue to be targeted by factory management, risking abuse by both managers and supervisors, or thugs acting at their behest. In some factories, workers leading efforts to form unions have been dismissed for their organising activities. Factory owners and management reject these allegations.
A Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) official told the HRW: “We have a bitter experience about unions. They believe they don’t need to work and they will get paid.”