For weeks, garment workers in Bangladesh have taken to the streets to protest low wages. The response by the authorities has been severe. At least two workers have been killed in deadly clashes.
The United States condemns the violence against workers in Bangladesh. On November 8, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement, “We were saddened by the reported killing by police last week of Rasel Howlader, a 26-year-old factory worker and union member from Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation.
Additionally, we mourn the loss of Imran Hossain, a 32-year-old factory worker who died in a fire set by protestors inside a Dhaka factory. We extend our condolences to their families and the greater labor communities.”
Spokesperson Miller also expressed concern “about the ongoing repression of workers and trade unionists.” In its most recent report on the human rights situation in Bangladesh, the State Department said that among serious human rights abuses in Bangladesh, were “significant restrictions on independent trade unions and workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.”
In his statement, Spokesperson Miller commended “members of the private sector who have endorsed union proposals for a reasonable wage increase. The United States,” he said, “urges the tripartite process to revisit the minimum wage decision to ensure that it addresses the growing economic pressures faced by workers and their families.” A tripartite committee exists in Bangladesh with representatives from the government, workers, and employers, to review the demands of workers and monitor labor law violations.
“Governments must ensure workers are able to exercise their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining without fear of violence, reprisal, or intimidation,” said Spokesperson Miller. “Through our work in Bangladesh and globally, we are firmly committed to advancing these fundamental human rights.”
The protests by workers and the violent response by the authorities in Bangladesh are taking place just months before the general election, scheduled for January. Speaking of the election, State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel reiterated what the United States desires for the Bangladeshi people, which, he said, is what the Bangladeshi people want for themselves: “a free and fair election ... conducted in a peaceful manner. We are engaging and will continue to engage with the Government, with opposition candidates, with civil society, and other stakeholders to urge them to work together for the benefit of the Bangladeshi people.”