By Brian Collett —All the remaining labour leaders detained after unrest in Bangladesh’s garment factories are to be freed after protests by more than 20 international clothing brands.
The announcement followed negotiations in which trade unionists, employers and government representatives participated.
The retailers, including H&M, Next and Primark, had urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to order the release of those imprisoned after a non-violent strike at factories in Dhaka.
More than 30 workers and trade unionists were arrested, criminal charges were brought, more than 1,500 employees were sacked, and several trade union offices were closed.
Parties to the talks that led to the release decision were the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the IndustriaALL trade union and the government’s Labour Ministry.
The decision has met with a cautious reaction. Critics complain that it does not promise the dropping of criminal charges, it does not guarantee back pay even though workers are offered reinstatement, and it does not give dates for the implementation of any action.
Mirjam van Hugten, spokesperson for the Clean Clothes Campaign
, the Amsterdam-based garment workers’ rights group, was wary: “We welcome the announced reopening of all registered union offices, and the planned release of all remaining workers under arrest.
“The document does not, however, constitute a basis for us as international labour rights organisations to conclude that the crisis in Bangladesh has been resolved, as there remain major issues outstanding.
“Without a guarantee from the relevant authorities that all charges are actually being dropped, the problems with freedom of association cannot be considered resolved.”
Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium
, which monitors US apparel employees’ rights, said: “We hope that an agreed plan of action with further clarification and assurances will be provided shortly, sufficient to warrant the conclusion that workers’ associational rights will be fully restored.”
Earlier, five high street retailers – C&A, H&M, Inditex, Next and Tchibo – pulled out of the Dhaka Apparel Summit in protest at the treatment of garment workers in Bangladesh.
The clothing they source from Bangladeshi factories is worth billions of dollars to the country’s economy every year.
Photo: Clean Clothes Campaign