The collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh launched a global outcry about the horrific conditions of the factories that make clothes for some of the world’s largest clothing companies. Yet four years after Rana Plaza, strikingly little has changed for Bangladeshi workers. Wages have remained stagnant since 2013, while the cost of living has increased over 6% a year.
With little other recourse, workers at dozens of factories staged peaceful protests and walk-outs In December 2016. The factories created clothing for Gap Inc (owner of Banana Republic and Old Navy), H&M, Inditex (owner of Zara), and VF (owner of 30 brands including The North Face, Jansport, and Vans).
Rather than engage with the workers, the factory owners instead pressed charges against garment workers and activists. Between December 2016 and February 2017, at least 34 workers and activists were jailed without evidence of wrongdoing. An additional 1,500 workers were reportedly dismissed from their jobs, and potentially blacklisted from seeking future employment in the garment industry.
Due to a joint effort between labor unions, human and labor rights organizations, and mounting consumer pressure, all workers and activists were released on bail by February 28. Additionally, many major retailers, including H&M, Gap, Inditex, and VF, rescinded their decision to attend the Dhaka Apparel Summit, Bangladesh’s annual event showcasing the garment industry. They cited their concerns with the crackdowns this past winter as a major reason for their withdrawal from the event.
While we celebrate the release of the jailed workers and activists, the fight is not over yet. All 34 workers and activists still face the falsified charges levied against them. These charges could linger for years, requiring monthly court appearances, and if they are found guilty, a long imprisonment. Unions are currently negotiating with the factory owners and brands to drop, or at the very lease lessen, the charges. We will continue to share updates regarding the situation as we hear of them.