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Vol. 76/No. 18      May 7, 2012

Bangladesh protests demand
‘arrest killer of union leader’
Aminul Islam, a garment workers’ union leader in Bangladesh, was tortured and killed at the beginning of April. Union organizers in the country’s growing garment industry have been targets for harassment and victimization by factory owners, cops and the government.

“We are demanding an impartial investigation and the arrest of those responsible,” said Kalpona Akhter, a leader of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, in a phone interview from Dhaka April 24. “Aminul was killed because of his union activities.”

Some 300 unionists protested in Dhaka April 13 demanding the government arrest and prosecute the killers of Islam.

Islam, 41, was a leader of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation and the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity. He was arrested and tortured by National Intelligence Service cops in June 2010, according to Akhter. He refused to sign blank documents that would be used to prosecute his colleagues and managed to escape, he later told Human Rights Watch.

In July 2011, Islam, Kalpona Akhter, Babul Akhter, and other leaders of the solidarity group were indicted on frame-up charges of criminal intimidation, violence against civil servants, mischief causing damage, and unlawful assembly related to a June 18, 2010, protest at a factory operated by the Nassa Group. Nassa makes clothes for Kmart, Walmart, Gap, Sears, and J.C. Penney.

“This case against us is harassment,” Kalpona Akhter said. “The security forces are still following us. They tap our phones. And they waste our time in court. All the charges should be dropped.”

According to the Dhaka Daily Star, Islam closed the Centre for Worker Solidarity early on April 4 after he observed a police van parked outside. He disappeared later that day. His tortured body was found near a police station two days later.

While still a predominantly agricultural country, the industrial working class in Bangladesh has grown tremendously since 1985, especially in garment, which makes up more than three-quarters of the country’s exports. Today Bangladesh is the second largest clothing manufacturer in the world, with 3.6 million workers, most of whom are women.

The minimum wage was increased 80 percent to 3,000 taka ($36) per month as a result of protests by tens of thousands of garment workers in mid-2010. Bangladeshi garment workers still receive less than half the wages of their counterparts in China, and less than in Cambodia.

The workers also confront a major fight for safety on the job. According to ABC News, nearly 500 workers have died in garment factory fires in the last five years due to conditions that include locked gates and shoddy wiring.
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