Saturday, July 01, 2023

Bangladeshi labour leader beaten to death while trying to resolve dispute(Guardian) & CCC Statement

Many  a time, when workers fight for their rights against employers, they are at RISK of retaliation by employers which may include termination of employment or other threats. When workers or their unions are strong, it may even lead to physical injury and even death. It is sad that some 'union' or 'worker' leaders are also easily compromised by employers through various means ending with workers losing effective advocates to ensure worker rights are protected and promoted. For the protection and promotion of worker and trade union rights, Malaysia has seen several union leaders being dismissed/terminated and in some other countries, it can even mean the loss of life. State and employers must protect worker rights and their ability to fight against injustice and for the promotion of rights.

Solidarity Statement: CCC Condemns the Killing of Union Organiser

June 27, 2023

Clean Clothes Campaign has learned of the horrific news of the brutal murder of Shahidul Islam, a union leader who was beaten to death for his labour rights activism in Tongi, Gazipur, Bangladesh. As an organiser of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) for 25 years, he fought for worker rights as a trade union organiser and died fighting for his beliefs. We would like to offer our sincere condolences to his family, friends and comrades mourning his loss. 

The Bangladesh government should immediately and impartially investigate the murder of Shahidul Islam and take punitive actions against the perpetrators of this horrendous killing.

Shahidul, president of BGIWF’s Gazipur district committee and his colleagues were attacked after leaving the meeting with the management at a Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd factory to help the workers collect their due bonuses and wages. The factory management refused to comply despite being directed by the Deputy Commissioner's (DC) office of Gazipur District to pay the workers' salaries.

According to import data evidence, T.K. Maxx, Tessival, Global Fashion Icon, N.E Brands LCC, Suzy's Inc, RD Style and New Yorker seem to be sourcing from Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd. The US, Canada, Italy, Spain and Denmark are major export areas. CCC is currently collecting more data on the buyers that source from the factory and will update accordingly.

As the group left the meeting, Shahidul and the other union representatives were approached by a group that attacked them. The attackers viciously punched and kicked Shahidul, leaving him unconscious and critically wounded. He was declared dead in a nearby hospital. This horrendous violence represents an immense loss for the Bangladesh labour movement.

The other representatives received medical treatment but weren't admitted to the hospital.

Kalpona Akter, the president of BGIWF, said: “Shahidul mobilised thousands of workers to join unions, empowering them to become solid factory-level leaders. Throughout his life, he assisted thousands of workers in receiving arrears and severance pay wrongfully denied by their employers. With workers' needs always in mind, Shahidul and three other worker representatives met on the evening of his death to discuss a peaceful resolution to a wage dispute and the Eid-ul-Azha festival bonus. He met his fate due to the industry promotion of yellow unionism for years and the neglect of workers' voices. His contributions to the labour movement were remarkable and will be sorely missed.”

This is not the first time BGIWF has been the victim of such a fatal attack. Eleven years ago, in April 2012, another worker leader, Aminul Islam, was tortured and murdered. Aminul was also an organiser with BGIWF, a key player in the country’s movement to advance worker rights. 

The murders of the unionists illustrate the extreme measures devised to suppress freedom of association in Bangladesh. We fear that much like Aminul’s killing in 2012, Shahidul Islam’s murder will contribute to worker intimidation, making the task of organising even more difficult for union leaders. By many accounts, workers in Bangladesh are systematically repressed by employers utilising criminal groups and yellow unions to terrorise workers organising independent democratic unions.

Ineke Zeldenrust, the International Coordinator at Clean Clothes Campaign, said: “The CCC network joins all those who grieve the loss of Shahidul Islam. We also stand in solidarity with BGIWF, all those who fight to exercise their rights to freedom of association and the many workers and union members who continue putting themselves at risk to defend workers’ rights and safety in factories across Bangladesh.”

Shahidul leaves behind a wife suffering from cancer and two sons and was the sole breadwinner of his family. Furthermore, his wife is a former organiser battling cancer, adding to their already challenging circumstances.


More on the 2012 murder of Aminul Islam

View the Rana Plaza Timeline to see the history of the fight for freedom of association in Bangladesh

CCC is currently confirming and collecting data on other buyers sourcing from Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd

Bangladeshi labour leader beaten to death while trying to resolve dispute

Shahidul Islam died in an assault on Sunday in Dhaka after meeting garment factory employees fighting for unpaid salaries

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Wed 28 Jun 2023 14.44 BSTLast modified on Wed 28 Jun 2023 15.27 BST

Police in Bangladesh are investigating the murder of a prominent trade union leader who was fatally beaten while trying to settle a dispute between a garment factory owner and workers over unpaid wages.

Shahidul Islam, 45, a top labour organiser for the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), was attacked on Sunday evening in Gazipur, a major garment industry hub on the outskirts of Dhaka, after intervening on behalf of workers who had gathered to demand back pay.

Ahmed Sharif, 35, a union organiser who was also wounded in the attack, told the Guardian he and Islam had visited the Prince Jacquard Sweater factory several times in the run-up to the attack because workers had been demanding unpaid salaries and wanted to be paid before Eid.

After the intervention of Islam and other labour leaders, the factory authorities reportedly promised the workers their wages would be paid on Sunday. However, when this didn’t happen, Islam was called in to help.

A protest over the death of Shahidul Islam in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Labour rights activists gather in Dhaka to protest over the death of the union organiser Shahidul Islam on Tuesday. Photograph: Redwan Ahmed

Islam and a group of fellow union leaders from other organisations reportedly entered the factory but could not find anyone from management to speak to.

Moments before the deadly assault at about 8pm, Islam addressed the crowd of workers and fellow activists, appealing to them to remain calm and said they would be taking their complaint to the Department Of Factory Inspection and Establishment the next day.

“We calmed the workers down and headed to the exit,” Sharif said. “As soon as we came out of the gate, a group of assailants grabbed Islam and separated him from us. They started cursing and randomly beating us, particularly Islam, some of them were kicking him mercilessly,” he added.

Sharif said by the time he and others were able to free him from the attackers, Islam was seriously injured and became unconscious. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to Sharif.

According to the US-based workers’ rights organisation, Solidarity Center, which condemned the murder, Islam was a trade union organiser for 25 years, and was president of the BGIWF’s Gazipur district committee. Over his career he assisted “thousands of workers to receive arrears and severance pay wrongfully denied by their employers”.

Kalpona Akter, the president of the BGIWF, said that Islam had been a target in the past of threats and assaults due to his work.

Dolly Akhtar, a trade union activist, said she believes Islam’s killing was intended to scare other activists from unionising and speaking up on behalf of workers in the apparel industry.

“We will not rest until the perpetrators are bought to justice. We have been on the streets before, now we lost one of our own, we will show them our power of unity,” Akhtar said.

Police confirmed that one suspect is in custody. “We have taken the case very seriously and every effort will be made to bring the culprits to justice,” said Shah Alam of Gazipur police. “We are awaiting the postmortem report. Once that arrives, we’ll have more evidence.”

A protest in Dhaka over the death of Shahidul Islam in Dhaka, Bangladesh
An emotional protest by colleagues in honour of the murdered trade union activist on Tuesday. Photograph: Redwan Ahmed

Mustofa Kamal, a 22-year-old activist who was with Islam at the factory and was attacked when he tried to intervene in the assault, said: “Shahidul Islam was a stalwart labour rights activist who, like many other union organisers in Bangladesh, facing numerous threats to his life, always stood up for garment workers who couldn’t speak up for themselves.”

Hundreds of workers and union activists took to the streets of Gazipur at midnight on Sunday after the news of Islam’s death spread. Human rights and workers’ rights organisations in Bangladesh have condemned the murder and called for a thorough investigation.

The factory was approached for comment but did not respond.

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