DHAKA Feb 6 Bangladeshi garment factory owners
use beatings, the threat of murder and sexual intimidation to
stop workers from forming trade unions, a human rights group
said on Thursday.
Bangladesh amended its labour law in July to boost worker
rights, including the freedom to form trade unions, after a
factory complex collapsed in April killing more than 1,100
garment workers, sparking debate over safety and rights.
But New York-based Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 47
workers in 21 factories in and around the capital, Dhaka, from
October and it said many of the workers described abusive
"The workers claimed that some managers intimidate and
mistreat employees involved in setting up unions, including
threatening to kill them," the rights group said in a statement.
"Some union organizers said they were beaten up, and others
said they had lost their jobs or had been forced to resign.
Factory owners sometimes used local gangsters to threaten or
attack workers outside the workplace, including at their homes,
Rock bottom wages and trade deals with Western countries
have turned Bangladesh's garments sector into a $22 billion
industry, that accounts for four-fifths of its exports.
In June, U.S. President Barack Obama cut off U.S. trade
benefits for Bangladesh in a mostly symbolic response to
conditions in its garment sector, given that clothing is not
eligible for U.S. duty cuts.
Human Rights Watch said one woman said that when workers in
her factory presented their union registration forms to the
company owner, he threw it in a dustbin then threatened them,
saying he would never allow union membership.
Two of her fellow organizers were later attacked by
unidentified assailants, one with cutting shears, she said. Two
weeks later, a group of men, including a known gangster and the
factory owner's brother, visited her home and threatened her.
She agreed to resign.
Many female workers said they received threats or insults of
a sexual nature, the rights group said.
Officials at the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and
Exporters Association were not available for comment.
A government official said he had not seen the rights
group's report but said worker rights were improving.
"We are actively working to improve workers' rights after
Rana Plaza incident and have made significant development,"
Labour Secretary Mikail Shipar said, referring to the collapse
of the factory complex last year.
"After amendment of the labour law, 99 trade unions have so
far been registered," he said. "Sixteen trade unions complained
against their owners and we are investigating this."
Bangladesh was been under pressure to adopt a better labour
law after the European Union, which gives preferential access to
the country's garment industry, threatened punitive measures if
it did not improve worker safety standards.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)