Bangladesh accused of harassing garment worker activists

Garment workers gather in front of the head office of BGMEA, during a protest in Dhaka in this file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 17 February 2017
0

Bangladesh accused of harassing garment worker activists

DHAKA: An international human rights group has accused Bangladesh authorities of harassing and intimidating garment worker leaders and rights activists, saying 34 of them have been arrested since December on charges it alleged were politically motivated.
Bangladesh has the world’s second-largest garment industry, which supplies many Western retailers and is vital to the developing country’s economy.
Workers from 20 factories stopped working and blocked roads during the protests Dec. 11-19 in an industrial zone near Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. Factory owners rejected the demand and temporarily closed many factories, and police began making arrests. The protesters demanded a monthly minimum wage increase from 5,300 takas ($67) to 15,000 ($187) or 16,000 ($200).
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement Wednesday that the authorities should respond sensibly.
“Targeting labor activists and intimidating workers instead of addressing their wage grievances tarnishes Bangladesh’s reputation and makes a mockery of government and industry claims that they are committed to protecting worker’s rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW. “Global garment brands sourcing from Bangladesh and aid donors should press the government to stop persecuting workers and labor rights activists.”
A rights activist told The Associated Press on Thursday that many have faced “systematic harassment” and went into hiding after the chaos at Ashulia area in December.
“We work for the workers but we are facing crackdown, I will call it crackdown. We are being intimidated,” Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, told the AP by phone from a jail gate where she went to meet two of her colleagues who got bail.
Akter said their offices at Ashulia were forcibly closed by police.
“This is unfortunate as we do not act against the industry, we work for the workers’ rights,” she said.
Government authorities could not be reached for comment immediately, but a business group leader disputed claims that 34 people have been arrested.
“So far I know nine people have been arrested because of their instigation that disrupted the sector,” Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told the AP late Thursday.
“More than 4 million people are involved in the industry, most of them love this sector as we all earn bread and butter from this, but only a few always attempt to destabilize such a vital sector in various way. Their common tactic is to create violence and disrupt production,” Rahman said. “Cannot we seek protection from the government? Cannot the government act in line with law of the country? Any one-sided claims that are harmful to the industry should not be taken for granted.”
HRW also urged global brands and donors attending an apparel summit in Bangladesh’s capital later this month to use the event to call on the government to stop all prosecution of union leaders and to defend workers’ freedom of association.
Factory owners earlier said that activists often created chaos in the industry for their personal gains and acted against the country’s interest. The government says it will not tolerate any chaos in the industry but will continue to work to improve workplace safety and workers’ rights.
The factory owners also complain that global brands are not ready to pay higher wages and bargain hard, putting extreme pressure on the manufacturers to keep prices cheaper. The local industry is second to China’s in size, with India and Vietnam also major competitors.


Philippines’ Duterte in war of words over Canada garbage row

Updated 37 min 48 sec ago
0

Philippines’ Duterte in war of words over Canada garbage row

  • The Philippines has urged Canada to take back scores of garbage containers shipped to the country in 2013 and 2014, alleging they contain toxic waste
  • Ottawa has said it had no authority to compel a private shipper to return the shipment to Canada

PORAC, Philippines: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday demanded Canada take back tons of trash it had illegally shipped to Manila or risk “war,” in the latest incident to strain bilateral ties.
The Philippines has urged Canada to take back scores of garbage containers shipped to the country in 2013 and 2014, alleging they contain toxic waste.
But Ottawa has said it had no authority to compel a private shipper to return the shipment to Canada.
Speaking to officials during a visit north of Manila, an area ravaged by an earthquake on Monday, Duterte said he did not care if his stance on the issue turned the two countries into enemies.
“I want a boat prepared. I’ll give a warning to Canada maybe next week that they better pull that thing out, or I will set sail for Canada and dump their garbage back there,” he said.
“Let’s fight Canada. I will declare war against them,” added the president, who frequently uses coarse language and hyperbole in public speeches about opponents.
The garbage is among several festering issues that have soured ties between the two governments.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been among the most vocal critics of the domestic drug war waged by Duterte, who was elected in 2016.
Philippine police say they have killed nearly 5,000 alleged drug users and pushers who fought against arrest in the crackdown, while rights groups say the true toll is at least triple that and may amount to crimes against humanity.
Last year Duterte angrily canceled the Philippine military’s $235 million contract to buy 16 military helicopters from a Canada-based manufacturer after the Trudeau government put the deal under review because of the president’s human rights record.