Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Thursday that the Bangladesh government needs to prevent garment factory owners [press release] from intimidating workers for organizing trade unions and to prosecute any parties responsible for attacks on labor leaders. Workers interviewed by HRW claimed that some managers mistreated those involved in organizing unions in incidents ranging from death threats to acts of violence and forced resignations, despite amendments to the country's labor laws in July that included the freedom to form trade unions. Many female workers say that they also received threats [Reuters report] of a sexual nature. According to HRW Asia Director Brad Adams, "The best way to ... end the exploitation of Bangladeshi workers is to encourage the establishment of independent trade unions to monitor and protect workers’ rights." A statement from Labor Secretary Mikail Shipar [official profile] suggested that conditions within the country were improving, saying that 99 trade unions had been registered since the July amendment and that the complaints of 16 trade unions against their owners are being investigated.
This call to protect the rights of Bangladeshi workers to organize follows the country's approval of a new labor law [JURIST report] in July in response to the collapse [press release] of the Rana Plaza building which killed about 1,129 garment workers in April. The change came in an effort to update the Bangladeshi laws to meet international standards. Bangladesh has ratified most of the core International Labor Organization [official website] labor standards, including Convention No. 87 on freedom of association and Convention No. 98 on the right to organize and bargain collectively. According to the World Factbook, garment exports totaled USD $12.3 billion in 2009 and $11 billion in 2010, accounting for almost 12 percent of GDP.