Why is BCWS targeted?

The immediate cause of the cancellation of BCWS’s legal status appears to be related to BCWS supporting workers in their effort to form an independent trade union at one particular garment factory, Nassa Global Wear. After harassment of union leaders, workers contacted BCWS in April, 2010, to receive support and help to resolve the conflict at the factory.

Is one factory responsible?

The immediate cause of the cancellation of BCWS’s legal status appears to be related to BCWS supporting workers in their effort to form an independent trade union at Nassa Global Wear. After harassment of union leaders, workers contacted BCWS in April, 2010, to receive support and help to resolve the conflict at the factory.

The company owners are retired military officers, who may have used their political influence to have BCWS's non-governmental organization registration revoked. While NAB did not officially notify BCWS of the cancellation of their legal status until June 10, Nassa knew about it earlier, and informed its workers on June 6—four days before BCWS received official notification—that they expected BCWS to be closed down.

On June 19, three days after Mr. Islam was detained and beaten by national security police, this factory reportedly filed criminal charges against two members of the BCWS staff, including Mr. Islam, and 57 workers, claiming they had beaten managers, vandalized the factory, and stolen property. According to BCWS, the case was filed in the Ashulia Police Station with Babul Akhter and Aminul Islam the principal defendants.

BCWS reported continued unrest at Nassa, including workers beaten by “local goons” both inside and outside the factory. On July 22, BCWS wrote that an estimated 40 workers were injured at Nassa, breaking news on Bangladeshi television.

Nassa Global Wear reportedly produces for several European and American brands, including WalMart, Carrefour, Tesco, and H&M. BCWS says it has discussed the case with Walmart’s Bangladesh office.

 

Undermining the legitimacy and credibility of workers’ demands for higher wages

Targeting BCWS serves to trivialize workers’ demands for better working conditions and higher wages. The legal minimum wage in Bangladesh is the lowest in the world at about 18 euros per month (1,662.50 Bangladeshi takas), forcing garment workers to subsist on starvation wages.

According to a Bangladeshi non-governmental research organization, the “minimum requirement for basic living” in cities such as Dhaka and Chittagong is 1,805 calories per day. In 2006, when the 18 euros per month minimum wage was adopted, they estimated the cost per month, per person, for food sufficient to meet this calorie intake was 15 euros. Since 2006, the prices of almost all essential food items have doubled, and in some cases tripled. That means garment workers who earn the minimum wage today do not even earn enough to feed themselves, let alone pay for other basic necessities for themselves and their children. That is why workers are now taking to the streets in the tens of thousands, shutting down factories, and demanding a tripling of the minimum wage to the still very modest 54 euros per month (5,000 Bangladeshi takas).

It is no wonder that garment workers struggling for their survival are demanding more money. But it easier for the government to blame worker organisations like BCWS, implying that workers’ demands are not as a result of genuine grievance, but as a result of manipulation by other forces. As though garment workers needed any provocation to demand their right to survival.

In its official NGO cancellation notification to BCWS, the government accuses BCWS of “inciting to create riotous situation and assisting in creating labour unrest in the ready-made garment sector, and in anti-state and social activities” An official government brief accuses two BCWS leaders of “fomenting unrest and agitation in the garments sector.” Instead of recognizing workers’ real human needs and basic right for a dignified wage, the government is reportedly considering adding to its apparatus of repression by forming a new “industrial police” specifically for the ready-made-garments sector. According to a Bangladeshi daily newspaper this new police force would use an “iron hand” to deal with worker unrest, a chilling message indeed.


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