Demand for Justice in Murdered Bangladeshi Trade Union Leader’s Case

Amsterdam, September 7 – Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and XR Fashion Action (XFA), prominent NGOs, made a resounding call for justice at the ‘Best of Bangladesh’ trade event in Amsterdam. Their demand for answers revolves around the tragic murder of Bangladeshi union leader Shahidul Islam, a case that has garnered global attention.

Shahidul Islam, a tireless advocate for workers’ rights with over 25 years of experience in the textile industry, represented the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation. His life was tragically cut short on June 25, just north of Dhaka, outside the Prince Jacquard Sweater factory. Islam was at the forefront of negotiations with the factory’s management, as workers demanded €211,000 in unpaid wages and bonuses. His call for patience was met with a brutal attack as he left the site.

NGOs are expressing concerns about the slow progress of the Bangladeshi authorities’ investigation into Islam’s murder. This protest also serves as a stark reminder of the challenges surrounding civil rights in the country. CCC and XFA activists, holding portraits of Islam, capitalized on the ‘Best of Bangladesh’ trade event, organized by the Bangladesh Apparel Exchange, an event that excluded NGO and union representatives.

Faruk Hassan, President of the Bangladeshi Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), called upon the authorities in June to conduct a thorough investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice. NGOs have suggested that beneath this tragic incident lies the local textile producers’ fear that Islam’s murder and the authorities’ lack of progress may ignite wage-related unrest within the industry. Amid mounting inflation, Bangladesh witnessed widespread demonstrations at the end of 2022.

The issue of fair wages in Bangladesh has international implications. The improvement of working conditions and labor rights in the country is paramount for the Bangladeshi textile industry’s relationship with Western buyers, as emphasized by BGMEA earlier this year. Islam’s murder occurred just weeks after the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, which claimed 1,100 lives and drew global attention to the working conditions in the Bangladeshi garment industry.

Human Rights Watch, with support from international trade unions IndustriAll and UNI Global Union, remarked, «The Bangladesh government is yet to comprehensively address ongoing violations of garment workers’ rights, including anti-union tactics by managers and assaults on union organizers.» They highlighted that both the United States and the European Union have linked Bangladesh’s trade preferences to urgent improvements in labor rights and workplace safety. The US government officially condemned Islam’s murder.

The textile and garment industry stand as Bangladesh’s largest export sector. In 2022, the country solidified its position as the EU’s second-largest apparel supplier, with exports totaling €21.8 billion—a remarkable 52% increase. Additionally, Bangladesh ranked as the third-largest apparel supplier to the USA, with exports valued at €9.1 billion, marking a substantial 36% increase.