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Western brands write to Bangladesh PM to curtail labour unrest

More than 20 leading international apparel brands have written to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to express concern about the recent labour unrest in Ashulia and particularly the detention of union leaders. Those among the signatories are H&M, C&A, Esprit, Gapm Next, VF Corp, Primark, Inditex and Li&Fung. The letter urges the Bangladeshi government to adopt a wage board for the garment sector and suggests that the local increased cost of living is contributing to unrest among garment workers.

The letter requests the government to take steps to ensure the protection of workers' rights and pays special attention to the representatives of the workers who were arrested. The letter makes clear that the brands do not support any illegal strikes or violent protests but recognise that the root cause of unrest must be addressed through social dialogue; improving the dialogue on the labour market.

In what could be deemed a thinly veiled threat, the letter goes on to suggest that unrest among garment workers could cause damage to the reputation of Bangladesh as a reliable sourcing market. Explaining why it signed the letter, H&M said in a note that it was deeply concerned by the recent unrest in the Bangladeshi textile industry. For H&M group it is important that its products are manufactured under good working conditions, in all production countries.

The factories have re-opened and production has resumed. Factory management, trade union representatives and trade association Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) are now negotiating the terms for the terminated workers. H&M’s staff in Dhaka is monitoring the situation closely and are in close contact with the company’s suppliers, industry associations, trade unions and other buyers.