[Marxism] Union Leaders Attacked at Bangladesh Garment Factories, Investigations Show

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 23 08:33:09 MST 2014


NY Times, Dec. 23 2014
Union Leaders Attacked at Bangladesh Garment Factories, Investigations Show
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE

The garment factory’s closed-circuit camera captured some unusual 
activity: Out front a female union leader was swarmed by people, pushed 
to the ground and assaulted while a male union activist was chased away 
and punched.

Another female union leader entered the factory door and seconds later 
was pushed outside, then shoved out of camera range.

Two investigations of the episodes depicted in the video, one led by a 
Washington-based workers’ rights group and another by a prominent 
American apparel company, determined that the camera footage showed that 
factory managers directed those attacks at the Global Garments factory 
in Bangladesh on Nov. 10.

A 10-story building in Dhaka houses five factories, including Florence 
Fashions garment factory, with 800 employees, and Cherry Private 
Limited.Stalemate Over Garment Factory Safety in BangladeshJUNE 25, 2014
The attacks occurred three months after a female union president was 
beaten in the head with an iron rod just outside another factory owned 
by the same company, the Azim Group, requiring her to get more than 20 
stitches, workers’ rights groups say. They maintain that 
company-directed thugs carried out that assault, while the Azim Group 
said the assault resulted from a feud involving a former husband that, 
the company’s law firm said, “occurred outside working hours, outside 
the factory grounds, outside any industrial dispute.”

The Azim Group, which says it has 24 factories and employs 27,000 
workers, said it was not involved in either altercation. Mishcon de 
Reya, a law firm representing Azim, said the November dispute “arose 
between the workers and union leaders.”

These attacks occurred as the United States and Europe, with workers’ 
advocacy groups, have been pressuring Bangladesh and its garment 
industry to improve factory safety and to guarantee that workers are 
free to unionize if the country wants some trade preferences restored. 
The Obama administration suspended Bangladesh’s trade privileges last 
year, after the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh collapsed, 
killing more than 1,100 apparel workers.

In response to the recent attacks against union leaders, two major 
apparel companies have announced that they are terminating or suspending 
orders with the Azim Group, the company that owns the two factories in 
Chittagong where the attacks occurred.

After commissioning an investigation, the VF Corporation, which produces 
the North Face, Nautica, Wrangler and Timberland brands, informed Azim 
on Dec. 13 that it was terminating their business relationship unless 
Azim took strong, demonstrable steps by Dec. 31 to guarantee workers’ 
rights and assure no further violence against union leaders.

Scott Deitz, the vice president for corporate relations at VF, called 
the attacks “deplorable,” and said that while “we do not produce at the 
factories where these terrible incidents occurred,” VF has “an 
obligation to ensure that Azim is complying with our global compliance 
principles.” He said that VF accounts for about 10 percent of the 
production at Azim’s factories.

In addition, Li & Fung, a global supply chain company that helps arrange 
apparel production for Kohl’s in Bangladesh, said it had conducted its 
own assessment.

“We concluded that a number of union representatives were mistreated and 
intimidated by factory supervisors,” Li & Fung, which is based in Hong 
Kong, wrote by email. “This is a serious violation of our code of 
conduct and that of our customer. As a result, we have suspended all 
future orders with any factories owned and operated by the Azim Group of 
companies.” VF and Li & Fung said their penalties would remain in place 
until they were certain that Azim was respectful of workers’ rights at 
all its factories and union leaders were free from harassment.

Through its law firm, the Azim Group said that the episodes on Nov. 10 
were “nonviolent” and that “the workers of the factory were exercising 
their legal rights to raise concerns about the union leaders.” The 
company’s law firm added that “any suggestion that the disagreement was 
‘organized or directed’ by the management of Azim Group is false.”

With regard to the beating on Aug. 26 of Mira Boashak, the acting union 
president at Azim’s Global Trousers factory, Farhan Azim, director of 
the Azim Group, said the company had done “whatever we can to assist 
through paying all medical bills and full remuneration for our worker 
during her long absence from work.”

In an email responding to questions from The New York Times, Mr. Azim 
said the company routinely engaged in collective bargaining and that it 
had welcomed and encouraged trade union activity for years.

Mr. Azim said that VF had indicated it was willing to discuss how to 
move forward, and “stated that they strongly hope we can come to an 
understanding of how to do this.” He added, “The publication of any 
story by you based on unsubstantiated allegations would be 
counterproductive at this point and would compel us to take legal recourse.”

His father, Mohammad Fazlul Azim, the company’s founder, was until 
recently a member of the Bangladeshi Parliament.

Dan Mozena, who stepped down as the United States ambassador to 
Bangladesh this week, said in a telephone interview, “We are following 
the incidents,” adding, “it’s a concern to us.”

“The owner alleges that he had nothing to do with it, and the victims 
allege he had everything to do with it,” Mr. Mozena said.

“We have raised these matters with Azim on a number of occasions,” he 
added. “A criminal act is a criminal act. Whoever perpetrated these 
beatings, those people need to be held accountable in the criminal process.”

The Worker Rights Consortium, a monitoring group sponsored by more than 
180 American universities, investigated the attacks outside the two 
factories and brought those attacks to the attention of VF and other 
apparel companies.

A report that the consortium sent to Azim’s customers on Dec. 18 
concluded, “Overwhelming testimonial and videographic evidence proves 
that Azim Group carried out a coordinated series of attacks on leaders 
of the GGL (Global Garments Ltd.) union on November 10, involving 
numerous intentional acts of violence and public humiliation.”

Representatives of the consortium interviewed the union leaders who had 
been beaten and many other workers from the two Azim factories in 
Chittagong.

“What happened is part of a rising wave of violence against workers who 
are trying to organize and defend their rights and their safety,” said 
Scott Nova, the consortium’s executive director. “If this violence is 
successful in suppressing the nascent growth of the labor movement, then 
the prospect for real change in Bangladesh will be severely dimmed.”

Mr. Nova said the compensation the Azim Group provided did not cover all 
Ms. Boashak’s medical bills and was inadequate. Photographs of her 
wounds show a long, open, bright red gash in her skull after the Aug. 26 
attack.

Mr. Nova said it would be a first for Bangladesh if the Azim Group 
reached a comprehensive agreement to remedy the violence and ensure 
constructive relations with its unions.

Dana M. Perlman, a spokeswoman for PVH, which is based in New York and 
produces Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein apparel, said it was also 
investigating the episodes at the two factories. “Pending the results, 
and the Azim Group’s response, we are not placing any further orders 
with those two facilities,” she said.

VF has made clear that whatever production it stops doing at Azim will 
be transferred to other factories in Bangladesh so as not to penalize 
the country. Labor advocates are urging other companies to do likewise.

VF hired what it said was a respected human rights expert based in Hong 
Kong to investigate the beatings. It declined to make its report or the 
name of the investigator public.

Jeff Hermanson, director of global strategy for Workers United, the main 
union for United States garment workers, was invited by VF to help with 
the investigation in Bangladesh. He said he worked closely with the 
leader of the investigation and they found from interviews and the 
closed-circuit video that some managers and anti-union workers had 
arrived early and were strategically placed when buses stopped outside 
the factory. The plant was reopened on Nov. 10 after being closed for 
three months.

“The supervisors were all in front of the gate,” Mr. Hermanson said, 
“and when the union people arrived, they were dragged and pushed off 
camera where we were told they were assaulted severely.”

“It became clear to us,” he added, “that there was violence against 
trade unionists, that it was planned by management.”

Laura Wilkinson, a Gap spokeswoman, said that while Gap was not a 
customer of the two factories where the attacks occurred, it uses other 
Azim Group factories. “Our sourcing and social responsibility teams 
jointly met with factory ownership to express our serious concerns and 
expectations,” she said. “We put the Azim Group on notice that if we do 
not see a swift resolution of this matter, that all parties can support, 
there will be a significant and direct business impact.”



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