The Government of Bangladesh Is Failing Its Workers

photo: Solidarity Center

Every year since the Rana Plaza disaster, workers have insisted that the ILO’s Committee on the Application of Standards hear and discuss how the government is failing its workers on the right to freedom of association. And, every year, the ILO Committee of Experts and the Committee on the Application of Standards have issued clear, direct recommendations to the government in order to comply with the Convention.

Unfortunately, the government has wasted every opportunity it has been given to improve the situation for workers. The Bangladesh Labour Act, the country’s primary labour law, and its regulations contain numerous obstacles to the exercise of this fundamental right. Workers in Export Processing Zones are prohibited from forming a union. The government still arbitrarily denies the registration of over half the unions that apply. And workers face dismissal or worse, including severe beatings, for attempting to form unions – while those responsible face no consequences whatsoever. The ITUC’s 2018 review of the Committee of Experts’ report makes this abundantly clear.

Bangladesh will not appear on the short list of cases of the Committee on the Application of Standards this year – not because there is improvement but rather because there is none. It makes no sense to provide the government yet another opportunity to make the same old excuses and the same old empty promises. Further, the ILO supervisory system has repeated too many times what the government must do to protect the right to freedom of association. Instead, we are putting the government of Bangladesh on notice. It has one final year to put its house in order. If it does not, the Workers’ Group will file for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry at the 2019 International Labour Conference.

This also serves as a notice to global brands. If you are truly serious about your commitments to respect labour rights in global supply chains, the case of Bangladesh provides no better opportunity. In the run-up to the centennial of the ILO next year, let’s see whether together we can make real progress. If not, then we know what to expect next year.