They were "protecting two ingredients of a manufacturing formula that has quietly made Bangladesh a leading apparel exporter to the United States and Europe: cheap labor and foreign investment."
Special police patrols protect industrial areas. Intelligence operatives "keep an eye on labor organizers."
One closely watched was Aminul Islam. He was found "tortured and killed in April." The murder remains unsolved.
Garment exports are vital for Bangladesh's economy. Its development is considered a national security issue.
Consulting giant McKinsey calls Bangladesh the "next China." Its garment exports could triple by 2020.
Transparency International says that "politics and business are so enmeshed that one is kin to the other."
Worker rights are systematically denied. Police attack protesters demanding higher wages and better working conditions. They're criminalized for challenging authority.
Alternative Movements for Resources and Freedom executive director, Khorshed Alam, said "no one wants to join unions out of fear." It doesn't matter if they did. Rights don't come with membership.
"The local owners, the brands, the government, their positions are all the same on this. They know that if (large numbers of) workers get organized, they will have to start listening to them."
Corporations rely on Bangladesh for some of the lowest wages anywhere. One observer calls it "the cheapest place under the sun."
Labor activists say factory owners, international retailers, and government officials want it kept that way.
IGLHR assistant director Barbara Briggs said:
"In our experience these sorts of issues will continue to arise, as long as brands in the US and in Europe are able to go around the world and do business on the basis of a race to the bottom."- Advertisement -
"Over and over again we see companies have made lovely codes of conducts, but are workers' rights being respected? No."
No one can live on sub-poverty wages. Occasional raises don't match cost of living increases. Labor code of conduct standards exist in name only.