Bangladesh to seek explanation from the US

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam

The Bangladesh government will seek an explanation from the US over the remarks of the country’s State Department Secretary Antony Blinken that the garment workers’ leader Kalpana Akter feels threatened in Bangladesh.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Md Shahriar Alam, said this while responding to an answer of a newsperson on Tuesday.

US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken rolled-out a Presidential Memorandum on ‘Advancing Worker Empowerment, Rights, and High Labor Standards Globally’ on 16 November.

He mentioned the name of Bangladesh’s readymade garment worker leader Kalpana Akter.

“We want to be there for people like Kalpana Akter, a Bangladeshi garment worker and activist, who says that she is alive today because the US embassy advocated on her behalf,” he said.

Asked about this, Shahriar Alam said that surely they would ask the US about this in the next discussion. Kalpana Akter was arrested only once in Bangladesh in 2010. She was not alone, several labour leaders were arrested while waging movement on duty. Later, the case against them was withdrawn. You know the type of chaos or problems that appear in the garment sector is temporary in nature. They appear suddenly and vanish immediately, he added.

The state minister said, “I don’t know whether you know or not. Kalapana Akter and a few others were arrested in the US while protesting as several western buyers’ declined to pay any compensation after the collapse of Rana Plaza. Now that Kalapana Akter said that she was threatened by us or somebody else; we will seek an explanation of this from the US.”

Kalpana Akter is the president of Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation and a founding member and executive director of Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity.

Mentioning that “Kalpana Akter has been successfully leading an NGO founded to ensure labour rights in Bangladesh,” Shahriar Alam said, “Maybe it is the responsibility of journalists to find out whether she truly said that or not, and if said, then what led her to say so. But she never informed anyone in Bangladesh that she felt threatened. We surely will want to know how true this is.”

Following the signing of the Presidential Memorandum, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said they will work to hold accountable those who threaten, intimidate, attack union leaders, labour rights defenders, labour organisations – including using things like sanctions, trade penalties, visa restrictions – all the tools in their kit.

He further stated that when they use their voice, their advocacy around the world, they can make a concrete difference in making sure that those who are trying to advance labour rights are protected and defended.

Asked whether there is anything reasonable to worry for the garment industry owners of Bangladesh about this new Presidential Memorandum, Shahriar Alam said, “NOt at all. I’m clearly stating that that remark is not directed at the readymade garment industry.”

The state minister said Antony Blinken’s statement was made at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference. This was not a bilateral meeting with Bangladesh or about the garment industry or textile industry. This is a global initiative, through this their embassies and ambassadors are being endowed with an added responsibility. Confusion appears if anything is not presented correctly. The garment industry owners have nothing to be worried about due to this new step.