Walmart Week of Action in the Midwest

Last week, USAS students in Madison, Wisconsin participated in a regional week of action against Wal-mart, educating consumers and demanding that the sweatshop giant drop criminal charges against BCWS leaders immediately.

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Kalpona, Babul, and Aminul Released!

We have received confirmation that Kalpona Akter, Babul Akhter, and Aminul Islam of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) were released from the Dhaka Central Prison by the Bangladeshi authorities at about 10pm Dhaka time September 10th, at the start of the Eid Festival which marks the end of Ramadan. Their release was secured following the granting of bail on all charges during a special hearing by a magistrate judge on Wednesday, September 8. Upon their release, the BCWS leaders expressed a “heartfelt thanks” to all who have supported them. We are heartened by their release.

U.S. Congressional pressure was key to convincing the Bangladeshi government to take this step.  We would like to thank all members of Congress who signed the letter urging U.S. brands and retailers to put serious economic pressure on Bangladesh to ensure justice for BCWS and their leaders. Many, many thanks to all organizations and individuals who have participated in so many actions from contacting your members of Congress to writing companies to donating to the bail fund.

Although bail has been granted in all cases, Kalpona, Babul, and Aminul still face prosecution on all charges filed against them.  Furthermore, BCWS’ NGO registration has still not been restored following its cancellation in early June and the organization is not permitted to function.   Additionally, several other prominent Bangladeshi labor leaders continue to face criminal charges, including Mr. Montu Ghosh, legal advisor to the Garment Sramik Trade Union Kendra, who is named in at least five of the cases against BCWS leaders and remains in prison since his arrest on July 30, 2010.

It is imperative that brands sourcing from Bangladesh use their influence to press the government and local manufacturers to drop the charges that have been filed against the BCWS leaders, restore BCWS’s NGO registration, and cease all repression of legitimate labor organizing and advocacy.  Additionally, and most importantly, those brands that source from Nassa Group and Envoy Group, two local manufacturers that played a key role in precipitating the criminal charges against the BCWS leaders, should immediately cease all pending and future orders with these companies – until and unless the charges  are dropped. We commend Philipps-Van Heusen, whose Tommy Hilfiger brand has already taken this crucial step.

Kalpona Akter, released labor rights leader from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity

Kalpona Akter, criminalized labor rights leader from the BCWS

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60 Walmart stores across the country hear from concerned customers

This week concerned consumers visited an estimated sixty Walmart stores in the US, Canada and the UK to call on the mega-retailer to help free Bangladeshi labor leaders Kalpona Akter and Babul Akhter.

This comes in the wake of thousands of emails that people from around the world have sent to the chain store.  Consider sending an email today if you haven’t already.

Called for by United Students Against Sweatshops and SweatFree Communities, a campaign of the International Labor Rights Forum, these actions are part of a growing international campaign that is putting pressure on the Bangladeshi government and two factory conglomerates, Nassa Group and Envoy Group, to release the two unjustly imprisoned labor leaders, drop all charges against them, and restore the non-governmental organization status of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity.  You can learn more here.

Some of us spoke to store managers who were sympathetic, curious to learn where Bangladesh is on the map, and shocked to find out about the country’s abysmally low wages. At some stores activists flyered for nearly an hour until leaflets ran out, without any bother from security, whereas at other stores activists were asked to leave after ten minutes.

One activist was out almost til midnight visiting three stores.

The actions had an impact and Walmart heard our voices. A representative from Walmart called our office wanting to discuss the matter further. We will continue to bring our message to Walmart until the retailer agrees to suspend its business with Nassa and Envoy so long as these conglomerates remain behind the charges against the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity.

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September 8: WAL-MART Day of Action!

For Immediate Release

September 8, 2010

Contact:

Liana Foxvog, SweatFree Communities, email hidden; JavaScript is required, (413) 320-7276

Trina Tocco, International Labor Rights Forum, email hidden; JavaScript is required, (269) 873-1000

National Day of Action Urging Walmart to Free Bangladeshi Labor Advocates

Actions in 40 Cities Across U.S., Canada, and U.K.

Labor rights organizations are organizing an International Day of Action today to urge Walmart to use its influence to free labor rights advocates in Bangladesh that have been in jail for over three weeks. Activists in cities across the U.S., U.K. and Canada will demonstrate in front of local Walmart stores in support of the jailed labor leaders. Key events will be held in Dayton, Austin and Milwaukee.

On August 13, 2010 Kalpona Akter and Babul Akhter of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) were arrested by the Government of Bangladesh on trumped up charges. These two individuals, who are respected labor rights advocates in Bangladesh, currently remain in detention, where Babul has been badly beaten. The charges that led to their arrest were brought by two leading garment conglomerates, Nassa Group and Envoy Group, which both source to Walmart.

The reason for these arrests lies in the Bangladeshi Government’s recent crackdown on activists, union leaders, and workers who have been demanding an increase in the national minimum wage, which is currently $0.12 per hour. This minimum wage level makes Bangladeshi workers the worst paid garment workers in the world. Workers have been striving to raise the minimum wage so that they can afford a better, more healthy life for their families.

Having significant influence over these two garment suppliers Nassa and Envoy, Walmart has the power to demand the release of Ms. Akter and Mr. Akhter. Walmart should suspend all orders with these two suppliers until the BCWS leaders’ have been safely released from detention, the charges against them have been dismissed, and BCWS’s license to operate has been restored.

On Wednesday, September 8, 2010, activists across the country will deliver letters to their local Walmart stores. The letters will be addressed to the local store manager, and encourage Walmart to take action against Nassa Group and Envoy Group. Activists will also hand out fliers in front of stores to let other shoppers know about the situation in Bangladesh.

Supporters will take part in these actions at local Walmarts in the following towns: Hadley and Northampton, MA; Austin, Humble and San Antonio, TX; Milwaukee, WI; Dayton, Cincinnati and Delaware, OH; Jacksonville, FL; Anderson, IN; Albany, Ithaca and New York City, NY; Williamsburg, VA; Oakland, Huntington Beach and Folsom, CA; Hanover Park and Chicago, IL; Falmouth and Ellsworth, ME; Salt Lake City, UT; Des Moines, IA; Charlotte, Goldsboro and Burlington, NC; Nashville, TN; Santa Fe, NM; Vancouver Island, BC, Canada; Toronto, ON, Canada; Winnipeg, MB, Canada; and Broadstairs and Portsmouth, UK.

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International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) is an advocacy organization dedicated to achieving just and humane treatment for workers worldwide. ILRF works to stop child labor, promote and protect the rights of working women, end sweatshop labor, and to end violence against trade unions. In addition ILRF is focused through its SweatFree Communities campaigns on the promotion of labor rights of garment workers especially in countries like Bangladesh.  Learn more at www.laborrights.org and www.sweatfree.org.

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Bangladeshi Ministers respond to activists

The Clean Clothes Campaign has relayed the following updates from the Swiss and Dutch embassies in Bangladesh.

From the Swiss embassy:  Babul and Kalpona are in the Dhaka Central Jail, and attend regular hearings on several cases placed against them. Babul was placed in remand for questioning for two days on one case, and was beaten during this period. Measures are being taken to ensure hearings are being followed by independent observers.  The embassy adds that they are cross checking information before filing a formal protest regarding Babul’s beating.

The Dutch embassy reports that Kalpona has received bail in 4 out of 7 cases, and Babul in 4 out of 8 cases.

The U.S. embassy reports that they have shared the congressional letter with advisors in the Prime Minister’s Office, key Ministers, Secretaries, and industry representatives; raised Kalpona and Babul’s detention and treatment with the Commerce Minister Faruk Khan; seek a face-to-face meeting with Babul; and is coordinating with other embassies on the matter. The Commerce Minister reportedly noted that he had been “bombarded” with over 3,000 e-mails from individuals inquiring about the Babul and Kalpona and reiterated the Bangladeshi Government’s commitment to improving worker conditions.

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Women’s Wear Daily Article: U.S. Firms Look to Turn Up Heat on Bangladesh

Women’s Wear Daily

U.S. Firms Look to Turn Up Heat on Bangladesh

by Kristi Ellis

September 3, 2010

WASHINGTON — U.S. retailers and apparel companies are taking a proactive stance against reports of police and government repression of garment workers and arrests of union activists in Bangladesh.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association sent a letter to Bangladesh’s ambassador to the U.S., Akramul Qader, on Wednesday, expressing its concerns about the reports.

“This repression has reportedly included arrests, intimidation, harassment and other measures that cause serious apprehension among our members, many of whom are major buyers and producers of garments in Bangladesh,” said Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the AAFA, in the letter. “We hope the government will represent the rule of law and follow a peaceful approach in responding to these ongoing protests. More importantly, we urge the government to constructively engage all stakeholders — workers, producers and buyers — in order to resolve the RMG [Ready Made Garment factories] wage issue as soon as possible.”

Burke said he had “grave concerns” in particular that the registration to operate for the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, a leading labor rights nongovernmental organization, was canceled by the Bangladesh government on June 3 and that the “BCWS had been informed its property and funds will be confiscated.”

He also said if reports that one or more BCWS staffers were detained are true, it is “unacceptable” and the government’s justifications for the arrests and warrants are, “at best, equally nontransparent and also appear to be without merit.”

The Bangladesh government moved to increase the country’s minimum wage in the garment industry in July, following months of widespread violent protests by workers and their union, but the protests have continued amidst widespread reports of worker repression and intimidation and union arrests.

A group of 19 House lawmakers in the International Workers Rights Caucus sent its own letter to six U.S. retailers and apparel brands making apparel in Bangladesh, calling on them to speak out publicly against the alleged persecution of labor activists there.

“As a company with a significant purchasing operation in Bangladesh, we believe that your renewed commitment to upholding and honoring basic labor rights will bring stability and security to the garment industry and the nation as a whole,” the caucus said in six separate letters to the chief executive officers of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., J.C. Penney Co., H&M, Cintas Corp., Sears Holdings Corp. and VF Corp. “It is crucial that the Bangladesh government understand that the major American retailers will not be able to maintain the current level of business with Bangladesh unless the charges are dropped and persecution of labor leaders stops immediately.”

The lawmakers implored the companies to take three specific steps: make public statements to their supply chain partners that the persecution of Bangladesh’s labor rights leaders will negatively affect the industry and future business; suspend all current and future orders with the Nassa Group and Envoy Group — two apparel factory conglomerates in Bangladesh — until the charges against union leaders have been dropped, and contact the Bangladesh government to ask for the release of two arrested labor leaders with the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity.

“H&M is strongly opposed to all forms of violence and it is with great concern that we have observed the civil unrest in connection with the recent wage negotiations, where factory workers and labor activists have been dismissed and/or arrested,” an H&M spokeswoman said.

She said H&M is writing a letter to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to address concerns about the BCWS and criminal charges.

“We urge the government of Bangladesh to ensure that all accused individuals and organizations receive fair and proper treatment,” the H&M spokeswoman said. “We hope and are confident that the government of Bangladesh and all other involved parties will take peaceful and constructive measures to prevent any further violence so that the apparel sector and its employees can go back to a normal and stable condition.”

“We are not familiar with the letter you reference, but Wal-Mart’s sourcing decisions reflect our values and demonstrate respect for workers throughout the supply chain,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said. “Compliance with laws and regulations is an integral part of our business practices. Earlier this year, Wal-Mart participated in a letter from leading brands and retailers encouraging the Bangladesh government to review the minimum wages for workers in the garment industry to ensure worker needs are met as well as a built-in mechanism for a yearly review of the minimum wages,” he said, adding the company will continue to monitor progress in Bangladesh.

A J.C. Penney spokeswoman said the company is committed to working with suppliers in which legal requirements and worker rights are respected.

“We will not do business with suppliers that cannot or will not make this same commitment,” she said. “The economic, political, social and labor situation in Bangladesh creates sourcing challenges for U.S. retailers, so it is important to our company to continue working with interested parties and stakeholders to develop a forum for open and transparent dialogue, with the goal of resolving disputes to the benefit of all concerned.”

“Recently, J.C. Penney joined other retailers that purchase products from Bangladesh suppliers in supporting an increase in wages for textile and apparel workers,” she added.

Cintas Corp. said in a statement that it is committed to conducting business in a “lawful, ethical and moral manner in all countries,” and is currently conducting annual audits of its suppliers, including those in Bangladesh, to ensure that they live up to the company’s vendor code of conduct.

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Congressmembers Urge Corporations to Take Action in Bangladesh

For Immediate Release
September 1, 2010


Tim Schlittner (Hare)
202-225-5905
email hidden; JavaScript is required

Sarah Baldauf (Schakowsky) 202-225-2111
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Bama Athreya
(International Labor Rights Forum) 202-701-3051


Theresa Haas (Workers Rights Consortium)

202-387-4884
email hidden; JavaScript is required
email hidden; JavaScript is required

International Worker Rights Caucus Urges Companies to Protest Anti-Worker Activities in Bangladesh

WASHINGTON, DC-The International Workers Rights Caucus today sent a letter to the heads of six corporations with major American operations regarding the persecution of labor activists in Bangladesh. For attempting to unionize and gain better wages and working conditions, the Bangladeshi government and major corporations have cracked down on union leaders and NGO’s advocating for workers rights. Leaders of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity have had charges filed against them which have led to their harassment, torture and arrest.


“As a company with a significant purchasing operation in Bangladesh, we have no doubt that a concerted effort by the top buyers in Bangladesh will be highly effective in returning stability to the garment industry and the country,” the
letter to Wal-Mart, JCPenney, Cintas, VF, H&M, and Sears/Kmart reads. “It is crucial that the Bangladesh government understand that major American retailers will not be able to maintain the current level of business with Bangladesh unless the charges are dropped and persecution of labor leaders stops immediately.”


“These tremendously successful companies must use their influence to help put an end to the horrific oppression of labor activists in Bangladesh,” said
Congressman Phil Hare (D-IL), chairman of the International Workers Rights Caucus. “They have an obligation to more than just their shareholders; as community leaders these corporations must demand that everyone’s basic human rights are upheld.”


“I am extremely concerned about ongoing unrest and persecution of labor leaders in Bangladesh,” said
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the International Workers Rights Caucus.

“The situation has become extremely critical and, in addition to ongoing action by our government, U.S. corporations that purchase goods from Bangladesh can play a key role in promoting and protecting the core rights of Bangladeshi workers.”


“In the face of terrible human rights violations, and targeting of courageous human rights activists, we cannot simply do business as usual with Bangladesh,” said
Bama Athreya, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum.

“Wal-Mart, H&M and other retailers are linchpins of the Bangladesh economy,” said Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Workers Rights Consortium. “If they stop doing business with suppliers that are behind the jailing of human rights leaders, the repression will stop.”

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Babul Akhter, worker rights advocate, Beaten in Detention

Babul Akhter, a leader of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS) NGO, and General Secretary of the BGIWF trade union, who has been detained by the Bangladeshi government since August 13 on fabricated\ criminal charges for “incitement” of workers in relation to recent unrest in Bangladesh’s export apparel sector, has been physically assaulted and beaten in police custody. Akhter also was threatened during this incident with being made a victim of a staged police shooting.

On the night of August 28, 2010, Akhter, who had been remanded for interrogation to a police station in the Ashulia industrial area, a center of export garment production, was physically assaulted by several non-uniformed persons who entered his holding cell, blindfolded him, and beat him with a thick wooden stick, inflicting injuries on his leg, hip and groin. His assailants reportedly also made threats that Akhter would be taken from the police station and shot by police during a staged incident.

In light of this alarming development, which is only the latest incident in the ongoing persecution by Bangladeshi authorities of Akhter and another detained BCWS and BGIWF leader, Kalpona Akter (no relation), it is more urgent than ever that the Government of Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and apparel brands sourcing from Bangladesh to secure their immediate release, the withdrawal of all criminal charges, and an end to all other interference with their lawful activities as labor rights advocates for Bangladeshi garment workers.

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Protest at Bangladesh Embassy in Washington, D.C.

30 trade union and labor activists from the AFL-CIO, AFT, International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and others rallied in front of the Embassy of Bangladesh today to protest the continued imprisonment on unsubstantiated charges of the leaders of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS).

Read more about it here.

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Kalpona and Babul from BCWS Hunted Down and Arrested

At 2:00am this morning in Bangladesh, Kalpona Akter was arrested by 20 police and taken away.  Just months ago, Kalpona sat with USASers at our Midwest Regional Conference speaking about her important work as garment worker and a labor organizer with the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS).

Take Action: Tell Wal-Mart to stop the attacks on worker activists like Kalpona!

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