US trade group urges to stop abuse of garment workers in Bangladesh

The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) has urged the Bangladesh government to cease arrests, threats, and criminal charges against garment workers who recently demanded a hike in their minimum wage.

The trade group made the call in separate letters issued to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Faruque Hassan on 18 March. The letters were released on their website on Monday.

In the letter to the prime minister, AAFA President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Stephen Lama said, “On behalf of the AAFA members, I restate AAFA’s repeated calls to end the ongoing detention, and the continued threat of detention, of thousands of workers related to the protests over the minimum wage in fall 2023. As we have stated previously, I also urge the Bangladesh government to investigate, and hold accountable, those responsible for the violence that led to the deaths and injuries of workers during the protests.”

The AAFA is the national trade association representing apparel, footwear and other sewn products companies, and their suppliers, which compete in the global market. Representing more than 1,000 brands, the association is the trusted public policy and political voice of the apparel and footwear industry.

Stephen Lama noted that Bangladesh is the third largest supplier of garments as well as a fast-growing supplier of footwear and travel goods to the United States. The favorable relationship between two nations has led to shared prosperity, economic growth, and a spirit of collaboration.

“However, it is with deep concern that we must once again repeat our calls for the release of all those arrested during the protests over the minimum wage, the removal of all criminal charges against those arrested, the end to any threat of arrest for thousands more workers by canceling the First Information Reports related to those workers and prevent the future harassment of workers engaged in the minimum wage protests,” the letter read.

At the same time, the US trade group called on the government to drop criminal charges brought against labour organisers, such as Jewel Miya, who was arrested last year for advocating for higher wages. Besides, the violence that led to the deaths and injuries of workers during the protests must be investigated and those responsible must be held accountable.

In the letter for BGMEA president, Stephen Lama sought the business leaders’ effective role in ensuring workers’ safety. The BGMEA leadership could not be reached to learn about their perspectives.