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.

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