H&M, Gap, Zara parent Inditex, VF Corporation, C&A, Next and Tchibo have all pulled out of the event, according to the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) will also no longer attend or speak at the event, which is scheduled to be hosted by the BGMEA and the Bangladesh Apparel Exchange on Saturday.
In a press release on the ILRF website, the group says these participants decided not to attend because they feel not enough is being done to address what they see as repression toward labor groups by the Bangladesh government and factory owners.
“ETI recognises the importance of the Apparel Summit to the future of the ready-made garment sector in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the current intimidation of workers and their representatives is at odds with a progressive industry looking to secure the sustainable development of the sector,” ETI’s Peter McAllister said in a statement.
McAllister says he’s planning to travel to Bangladesh to meet with stakeholders on this topic at a later date.
Mirjam van Heugten of the Clean Clothes Campaign said, “Clearly our global labour campaign #EveryDayCounts #WagesNotJail targeting the brands linked to this repression is having an impact. With this boycott of BGMEA’s summit, leading brands are sending a clear message to the BGMEA and the Bangladesh authorities: unless all detainees are released, unsubstantiated charges are dropped, and other acts of intimidation and harassment of trade unions are stopped, they cannot credibly participate in a summit on ‘sustainable growth’ of the industry.”
The companies, which represent billions of dollars in trade, hope that by taking a stand they underscore the severity of the situation.
The garment industry amounts to 80 percent of the country’s exports.
In December, workers in the Ashulia region went on strike to demand better wages and treatment. Ultimately, some of them no longer have jobs (either because they were fired or quit, depending on who’s relaying the details), while others faced criminal charges for vandalism. Labor unions were also harassed and some leaders were even jailed. According to reports, the individuals were held for weeks.
In response, labor groups and the American Apparel and Footwear Association intervened, speaking up on behalf of workers’ rights and calling for the swift and just resolution to the situation.
On Sunday, the BGMEA issued a statement responding to critics who have raised questions about how the garment industry and government handled the strike. In the response, the group asserts that the workers must accept responsibility for failing to address their concerns in the proper manner. All in all, the BGMEA didn’t seem to indicate that any other parties were accountable for how events played out, rather the point was made that the whole incident erodes trust in the country’s garment sector and will likely cost it $100 million.
“We would like to reemphasize that the BGMEA is dedicated to the principle that no worker should be deprived from his or her constitutional rights. At the same time, people have to respect the law of the land,” said the BGMEA statement. In an attempt to uphold the law and help the factories maintain their businesses, the BGMEA said it has been in communication with owners to resolve the matter.
Billed as an opportunity for global partners to discuss building a more sustainable apparel supply chain, the Dhaka Apparel Summit is designed to attract attendees, including government representatives, economists, brands, employers and worker’s representatives. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to kick off the summit.