American Apparel & Footwear Association president and chief executive officer Rick Helfenbein sent a letter to Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina Wazed on Monday expressing concern with the recent unrest and the resulting arrests of labor leaders and workers’ rights advocates, as well as the termination of thousands of garment workers.
AAFA and its member companies also encouraged Wazed to go beyond wage concerns and implement a regular and transparent wage review mechanism for the garment industry, with participation by all relevant stakeholders.
“On behalf of the U.S. garment, footwear and travel-goods industry, I am writing to express concern with the recent labor unrest in Ashulia, which led to the arrests of a number of labor leaders and workers’ rights advocates by the government of Bangladesh, as well as the termination of thousands of garment workers by factory owners,” Helfenbein wrote.
He said AAFA, which represents more than 1,000 U.S. apparel brands, is “committed to ensuring that all the products that it produces, sources and sells are manufactured under lawful and humane conditions.”
“We believe in the rights of workers to freely associate, including associated legal protections from harassment, intimidation and termination for exercising their right to freely associate,” Helfenbein wrote. “We also do not condone illegal activities by workers, labor groups or factory owners.”
He said AAFA member companies have respect for the autonomy of the Bangladesh judicial process and the institutions that administer it, and believe ongoing wage concerns by workers continue to contribute to worker unrest throughout Bangladesh.
“As we have in the past, we again urge the Bangladesh government to implement a regular and transparent wage review mechanism for the garment industry, with the participation of all relevant stakeholders,” Helfenbien added. “A peaceful, fair and timely resolution for those arrested, as well as the implementation of a regular and transparent wage review mechanism, would promote both the short- and long-term health and stability of the Bangladeshi garment and footwear industry. A timely resolution will also enable the Bangladeshi garment and footwear industry to maintain the strong relationship it has with our member companies.”
This isn’t the only problem facing Bangladesh manufacturing. This month, the U.S. State Department revealed that the Islamic State terrorist network issued a threat targeting garment buyers in Bangladesh in October — as part of new travel warning to the Asian country.