9 March 2017, Thu, 12:23

US Congress members stand up for labour rights in Bangladesh

A group of members of the US Congress led by House of Representatives members Jan Schakowsky, Sander Levin, Bill Pascrell and Bobby Scott have called on Bangladesh to release jailed labour activists and restore workers’ rights.

In a letter, also signed by House members James P McGovern, Mark Pocan, William Keating, Jackie Speier, Joseph Crowley and Steve Cohen, was sent to Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina on 23 February, raising deep concerns about the “criminalisation of legal labour activity” in Bangladesh.

The letter comes after a crackdown on labour rights in the country. “At least 1,600 garment industry workers were suspended or fired for their participation in protests over the 32-cent-per-hour minimum wage. Dozens of labour rights leaders have been jailed recently,” said a press release posted on the website of Jan Schakowsky.

The letter too has been attached with the press release.

“As friends of Bangladesh and advocates of a strong U.S.-Bangladesh relationship, we write to express our serious concern regarding the arrest and detention of workers’ rights leaders in the garment industry who have been engaged in peaceful activity in many areas of Bangladesh,” reads the letter.

The letter states further: “We regret the backsliding of progress and deplore the criminalisation of activities protected under Bangladesh and international law. We call on you to provide an immediate accounting of all individuals who have been detained, a review of the many charges which have been made, and urge your intervention to assure that the responsible government entities drop all meritless and unsubstantiated charges, immediately releasing those wrongly detained.”

The letter highlights the significant reversals in labour rights that have occurred in the four years since one of the world’s worst industrial disasters occurred at the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, which collapsed killing some 1,100 workers.

“In response to Rana Plaza and to persistent violations of the right to organise, the U.S. government revoked trade preferences under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for certain Bangladeshi goods.

“In the immediate aftermath of the revocation, it seemed that the government of Bangladesh was committed to improving its respect for workers’ rights by allowing unions to register and reforming aspects of the national labour and factory safety laws.

“We are extremely concerned that the respect for labour rights in Bangladesh is moving in the wrong direction, and call upon you to personally intervene, and to clarify the government’s policies and practices in the face of the deterioration in labour rights,” reads the letter.