By  on September 25, 2007

GENEVA — Textile and apparel labor leaders and workers, particularly in Bangladesh and Cambodia, were among the large and growing number of victims subjected last year to human rights violations, including killings, torture and beatings, for trying to defend their basic rights, a global survey said.

The annual report by the International Trade Union Confederation documents abuses related to textile and apparel facilities, many in export processing zones, in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, India, China, Jordan, Madagascar, Kenya, Mauritius, the Philippines, Mexico and Central American nations.

Last year, there were 144 trade unionists murdered for defending workers' rights, up from 115 the year before. More than 800 suffered beatings or torture, almost 5,000 were arrested and more than 8,000 were dismissed, the report said.

Guy Ryder, the confederation's secretary general, said the figures must be seen only "as conservative estimates, with many cases going unreported."

Ryder, whose umbrella group represents 168 million workers in 153 nations and 305 national affiliates, including the AFL-CIO, warned: "There are few if any signs of overall improvements since the end of 2006, and governments need to face up to their responsibilities to make sure that global standards adopted by the International Labor Organization are fully respected everywhere."

These include core rights such as freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

In Bangladesh, where an estimated 2 million women work for about 3,300 employers that produce apparel for export, workers are "regularly sacked, beaten or subjected to false charges by the police for being active in a union," the report said.

At FS Sweaters in Gazipur, Bangladesh, the survey noted, "A pattern of alleged cheating in wage calculation, compounded by verbal abuse of workers, caused a series of confrontations between workers and management that in turn resulted in the detention in the factory of three workers' leaders."

The incident triggered a strike and confrontation with hired thugs who attacked the workers on the picket line. The crisis escalated when the police fired on the strikers, killing one worker and injuring others, which in turn ignited riots in other areas and the burning of dozens of factories.Employer negligence and government indifference also are responsible for poor safety standards and many occupational accidents, the report said.

Citing a report by the Bangladesh Institute for Labor Studies, the confederation said there were 845 workers killed and 3,018 injured by occupational accidents. The ready-made garment sector led the way in its toll of workers, with 141 killed, and 1,578 hurt or maimed.

The AFL-CIO's American Centre for International Labor Solidarity also received numerous visits and ad hoc investigations from Bangladesh's intelligence services, police and other authorities, despite being legally registered in the country after it published a pamphlet for EPZ workers that explained their rights under the law.

The Centre's work of seeking to contact international labor bodies and overseas apparel companies and brands to rectify problems at factories "was also evidently unwelcome," the report adds.

A large number of labor leaders and textiles and apparel workers also were fired by many companies in Cambodia. In October, River Rich Textile fired the union president and 19 leading supporters and, a few days later, another 117 workers.

In India, Fibre & Fabrics International and Jeans Knit PVT Ltd., the study said, did not allow workers to form unions and intimidated them from engaging in collective activity.

The report highlights the advocacy group Clean Clothes' campaign concerns about the abuses with European and American brands G-Star, Ann Taylor, Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, Mexx, Guess, Armani and Rare. In response, FFI, the report adds, established a management-run grievance committee, "but refused to recognize the workers' rights to freely associate with unions or other groups to seek assistance."

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