Yet, garment workers represent a particularly vulnerable population in Bangladesh.
Beginning in December 2018, thousands of garment workers from global brand factories in the Ashulia industrial area retook to the streets in protest and went on strike following the implementation of a monthly minimum wage of 8,000 taka (approximately $96 USD), approximately half of what trade union leaders had demanded during prior negotiations with the governmentand
In response to the increased vulnerability of Bangladeshi garment workers and the criminalization of union leaders, the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights (Center) undertook an analysis of how the Bangladeshi criminal justice system has processed the criminal cases of seven full-time union or federation organizers and one garment factory worker allegedly involved in the Ashulia protests. The report focuses on the 2016 Ashulia strike cases since they have direct relevance for current events.Union leaders play an essential role in collectively advocating for the rights of workers, including fair wages, safe working conditions, protection from harassment, and more. The collective advocacy and assertion of union leaders' fundamental rights to association and assembly are more important than ever to protect workers from further abuse and maltreatment amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The report’s Introduction (Part II) details the 2016 Ashulia strike events, the government of Bangladesh’s crackdown against garment workers and union leaders allegedly involved in the protests, and the international response to the crackdown. Part III of the report provides a general overview of the Bangladeshi criminal procedure and Bangladesh’s obligations under international law. Part IV of the report focuses on Bangladeshi criminal procedure and international human rights law standards as applied to the cases of the seven aforementioned defendants. All seven defendants reported that they were not provided with a warrant at the time of their arrest, and a number of the defendants reported lack of access to legal counsel. Additionally, several of the defendants alleged that, while detained, they were subject to death threats and threats of torture. As a result, the Center finds that the defendants’ legal rights, including the right to fair trial, appear to have been substantially violated under both Bangladeshi and international law.
Based on evidence-based research, the report concludes with Part V which lays out the following recommendations for the government of Bangladesh:
- Ensure that law enforcement comply with the orders of the Supreme Court issued in the 2003 and 2017 Bangladeshi Legal Aid and Services Trust v. Bangladesh decisions concerning the arrest and detention of individuals accused of criminal activity;
- Require courts to inform the accused of their right to apply for legal counsel;
- Ensure that police do not abuse loopholes to extend detention authorized under Bangladeshi law by magistrates beyond the maximum of 15 days;
- Strengthen existing avenues for investigating officers, magistrates, and prosecutors to withdraw a suspect from a case or dismiss a case in the absence of clear evidence of criminal conduct, and suspend the prosecution of other cases involving the 2016 Ashulia strike individuals discussed in this report;
- Create an independent task force dedicated to investigating allegations of misuse of the criminal justice system, torture, and death by law enforcement to align with international recommendations and legal standards, and hold magistrate and prosecutors accountable under criminal and disciplinary procedures for the misuse of justice system;
- Abide by and address the concluding observations and guidance advanced by several international monitoring bodies—namely, the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the U.N. Committee Against Torture, and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association, and allow the U.N. Special Rapporteurs to conduct country visits and subsequently implement recommendations made by the Special Rapporteurs.