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Labor Unions Call for Ethical Treatment of Garment Workers in Bangladesh

This time, its human rights charges after protests over the minimum wage last month led to more than 1,600 workers losing their jobs, the detainment of at least 11 garment union leaders and charges against 600 more.

Last month, workers in the Ashulia district of Dhaka went on strike, demanding an increase in the minimum wage from $68 to $190 per month. An increase they say they’re due because they’ve only received two increases in a decade while inflation has increased by 10 percent per year.

As a result, union groups claim security forces raided the houses of trade union leaders and volunteers and shut down trade union offices and burned membership documents in an attempt to intimidate workers into compliance.

The IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union have launched an online campaign for the immediate release of the detainees as well as fair pay and treatment of all workers.

In a joint statement, the groups said “Despite the crackdown, Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina has been joining the world’s elite in Davos this week telling business leaders and the international community that there are harmonious industrial relations in the readymade garment (RMG) industry in the country. She also said her country was ‘highly committed to ensuring compliance with regard to the RMG industry.’”

The groups are looking to major retailers that operate out of Bangladesh like Gap Inc., H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, PVH and American Eagle Outfitters to apply pressure to the government and the apparel sector to clean up its act, according to The New York Times.

“At a certain point in time you have to wonder just how much the brands and retailers will tolerate,” Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, told the newspaper. “They can tell the factories to drop these charges.”

A threat to the garment industry is a threat to the country. The sector employs 4.5 million workers in 3,780 factories and accounts for 83 percent of total exports. It is a critical time for the industry, which is still trying to rebuild its reputation after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 that killed more than 1,100 people. It’s also operating under a cloud after the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning that singled out garment buyers due to terror threats.