GENEVA — Labor union leaders and workers, including in the apparel sector in Bangladesh, Cambodia and other countries, have faced brutal violence, even murder and arbitrary arrests in their efforts to defend core international labor rights, a global study released Wednesday found.
In Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest apparel producer, the study claimed physical assault, sexual intimidation and threats of dismissal are often used to prevent workers from organizing.
“Workers involved in establishing unions in RMG [ready-made garment] factories in Gazipur, Ashulia and Tongi in Dhaka, and in Potanga and Nasirabad in Chittagong, have been beaten, intimidated and threatened, sacked and forced to resign by factory managers,” according to the 2015 Global Rights Index report by the International Trade Union Confederation.
On Feb. 22, 2014, a garment worker leader and four organizers were attacked and beaten, it claimed, by a group of two dozen men while speaking to employees of Chunji Knit Ltd., a garment manufacturing company.
Similarly, on Aug. 26, 2014 a woman union president was beaten on the head with an iron rod outside a factory owned by the Azim Group, and on Sept. 18, workers of Lifestyle Fashions Maker Ltd. reported being beaten with iron rods by 20 to 25 officials following a dispute over the formation of a trade union.
Industry workers were also attacked in Cambodia, said the ITUC, which on May 2, 2014, said paramilitary forces broke up a strike of 100 employees at Pemir Garment Factory on Veng Sreng Boulevard. The workers were demanding an end to forced overtime, and a lunch bonus.
Serious violations of trade union rights also occur in export processing zones throughout Asia, including Bangladesh, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, the report noted.
Moreover, the ITUC, which includes the AFL-CIO, was also critical of Cambodia’s new trade trade union law and claimed it would allow the government to suspend a union’s registration if they authorized a strike that the authorities did not approve.
On a brighter note, the report highlighted that working conditions have steadily improved in Lesotho’s garment factories.
The ITUC, which collected data on 141 countries and evaluated them on 97 internationally recognized indicators of workers’ rights, found that workers faced arbitrary arrests and detention in 44 countries, and unionists were murdered in 11 nations in 2014, including 22 deaths in Colombia (and nine so far this year), eight in Guatemala, and one in Bangladesh.
Trade unionists were also killed in Honduras, Pakistan, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Kenya and Ukraine, ITUC analysts said.
Bangladesh, and Cambodia, along with China, India, Colombia, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey, were among the 27 countries that came in with a poor overall score of five – which represents no guarantee of rights.
Sweden and Germany were among only 16 countries that managed the top rating score of one, representing irregular violations of rights.
But the research also revealed that in 73 of the 141 countries, workers faced dismissals, suspensions and pay cuts, and in 84 countries, employers adopted illegal strategies to deny or delay bargaining with trade unions.