US group urges Hasina to get fired RMG workers reinstated

Brajesh Upadhyay, Washington
Published : 18:39, May 25, 2019 | Updated : 19:35, May 25, 2019

An influential apparel group in the US has urged Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to withdraw all criminal charges against labour leaders and encourage factory owners to reinstate fired workers as the current situation threatens the growth in the industry.
While applauding the government’s commitment to improve the lives of more than four million garment, footwear and travel good workers, the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) has cautioned against any further uncertainty.
In a letter to Hasina, AAFA says the industry is poised for further growth but it is threatened by the government’s response to this year’s minimum wage protests and its wavering commitment to the future of worker safety.
It says the government did move quickly earlier this year to rectify the problems in the new minimum wage, but the aftermath of the protests were marred by retribution by the government and factory owners against workers and labour leaders alleged to have participated in the protests.
“That retribution—in the form of mass firing and criminal charges—must end,” it says.
AAFA is the national trade association representing apparel, footwear and other sewn products companies, and their suppliers, which compete in the global market. Representing more than a thousand top global brands, it’s considered an influential political voice for nearly four million US workers in the industry.
Garment workers shout as they protest for higher wages in Dhaka, Bangladesh January 12, 2019. REUTERSThe group’s CEO Rick Helfenbein has also criticised the government for working to limit or end western initiatives to improve worker safety and urged it to redouble government’s efforts to have the Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) inspect and remediate all factories in the garment industry.
He says the RCC has inspected only a small percentage of Bangladesh’s garment factories and, more importantly, has remediated virtually none.
“The situation must change, quickly, or this success, and the opportunities it brings for your country, will be squandered,” says Helfenbein.
Bangladesh has the world’s second-largest garment industry, behind China, with some 4,000 factories employing about 4 million workers and exports more than $30 billion worth of clothes a year, mainly to the United States and Europe. Yet, concerns about workers’ wages and safety have repeatedly been raised by the international media.
Research suggests that western initiatives have together overseen dramatic safety improvements in more than 2,300 garment factories in the country. Deaths across the sector have fallen in the past five years from about 71 per year to 17.