On August 11, over 1,600 garment workers in Bangladesh, who were in their 11th day of a hunger strike, won the overdue wages owed by their employer, Tuba Group. Striking workers who were occupying Tuba Group factories were also violently attacked by police using tear gas and rubber bullets, and several activists and supporters were arrested. Activists believed that the Tuba Group did not pay their workers for months as part of a strategy to force the government to offer bail to the company’s former director, Delwar Hossain, who was imprisoned on charges of neglect. Mushrefa Mishu, one of the leaders of the protest, said, “Withholding workers’ wages was dirty politics from the owners to have Delwar bailed out.”
Tuba Group is a large garment manufacturer that supplies clothes to Walmart and FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup. The strike began on July 28, the first day of Eid, after workers had not been paid for three months and had not received a promised holiday bonus. The Tuba Group is the same company that owned the Tazreen factory, which burned in 2012, killing 112 workers.
The treatment and working conditions of Bangladeshi garment workers continue to be abysmal, despite the international attention generated by the Rana Plaza disaster in April 2013, which killed over 3,000 garment workers. While many promises were made from the Bangladeshi government and Western retailers to enforce ethical labor practices, little has been done. While there has been some effort for new factories to be safely built, the labor treatment has not significantly improved since the Rana Plaza collapse.
Currently, there are several initiatives in Bangladesh to establish trade unions and to pressure both retailers and the Bangladeshi government to enforce ethical labor practices. Mishu cites lack of leadership and lack of knowledge about worker rights as two of the central challenges. There are currently very few unions supporting garment workers’ rights in Bangladesh. Supporting initiatives for stronger unions for these workers, according to activists, is key to continuing and winning the fight for workers’ rights in Bangladesh’s garment industry.