On, January 13, 2017, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) sent a letter to the prime minister of Bangladesh, expressing concern over government and employer reaction to recent garment worker protests in the Ashulia area of Dhaka, including the arrest or firing of protesting workers and the detention of union leaders and workers’ rights advocates.
Reports from international media and worker-focused civil society organizations indicate that more than 50 factories were temporarily closed in response to worker protests, with at least 1,500 workers (or as many as 3,500 workers according to some reports) being fired, and others arrested. At least 14 union leaders or labor-rights advocates were also arrested or detained by authorities.
The FLA and its affiliates very strongly support workers’ rights to associate freely and to bargain collectively, free from the threat of retaliation. We stand against actions by authorities or employers that deprive workers, labor leaders, or workers’ advocates of the free exercise of their rights, and we have reiterated this stance in our letter to the government of Bangladesh.
In addition, the FLA has urged all of its company affiliates to contact their suppliers in Bangladesh to ensure that protesting workers have not been punished, and have access to effective grievance mechanisms to address any violations of their rights. The FLA Workplace Code of Conduct protects workers from any retaliatory actions arising from their "participation in collective bargaining efforts or participation in a legal strike." Workers, unions, and any party concerned by supplier actions that violate workers' freedom of association may pursue an investigation through the FLA's Third Party Complaint and safeguards mechanism.
Furthermore, reports have indicated that striking workers in Bangladesh seek an increase in the minimum wage in Bangladesh from 5,300 taka (US$67) per month to 15,000 taka (US$190) per month. As reported in the FLA's August 2016 report on compensation, minimum wages in Bangladesh (and average wages at Bangladesh facilities assessed by the FLA in 2015) fell below the World Bank poverty line for a family of three. This chart, from the FLA report, illuminates how the striking workers' current minimum wage demand compares with other benchmarks, such as the Asia Floor Wage (29,442 taka), the Center for Policy Dialogue living wage estimate (16,919 taka), and the World Bank poverty line (8,721 taka).
As an organization committed to fair compensation for workers, the FLA supports objective, inclusive, and productive national wage-setting negotiations that result in a minimum wage that is fair for workers. To this end, FLA-affiliated companies commit to purchasing practices that help build sustainable supply chains, such as working with suppliers to adjust prices to account for locally negotiated wage increases.
The FLA takes fair compensation of workers and protection of workers’ freedom of association very seriously. We will continue to follow developments in Bangladesh, and to encourage brands to take a pro-active approach of collaborating with suppliers now to ensure that workers’ rights are respected.
The complete letter from the FLA and Fair Wear Foundation to the prime minister of Bangladesh appears below.