In Bangladesh, the minimum wage for a garment worker is a mere US$43 per month. Studies show that this wage fails to cover the cost of the minimum nutritional needs of a single worker, let alone a family.
When workers staged protests demanding a livable wage and better working conditions, the Bangladeshi government and factory owners retaliated with charges against three labor leaders from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, Kalpona Akter, Babul Akhter, and Aminul Islam. The charges are wholly unsubstantiated and fabricated. Kalpona and Babul spent 30 days in jail, Aminul a week, in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Officials beat Babul with a wooden stick and made threats to his life during his detention. Aminul had been previously tortured by National Intelligence officers. All three are now free on bail, but the false charges against them remain. If convicted, they face as much as life in prison and, in a worst case scenario, the death penalty.
As one of the largest buyers of Bangladeshi-made clothing, Walmart has the power to ensure that Bangladeshi garment workers who face poverty wages and abusive conditions can stand up for their rights without risking harassment, imprisonment and torture. Ask Walmart to tell its suppliers, Nassa Group and Envoy Group, that have instigated false charges against Kalpona Akter, Babul Akhter, Aminul Islam, and other labor leaders to drop those charges; that the officers responsible for torturing peaceful labor leaders must be held accountable; and that labor rights defenders like the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity must be allowed to operate freely.
The trial for one case against BCWS leaders began on June 29, 2011. Nine additional cases are pending and may move to trial soon. Your action is urgent!
For more background, read our report: Enemies of the Nation or Human Rights Defenders? Fighting Poverty in Bangladesh.
The poverty wages and poor working conditions, which Walmart profits from as the largest buyer of Bangladeshi garments, are the real cause of worker unrest. Given the falsified charges and the rejection of its nongovernmental organization status, it is difficult for the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity to maintain its important work of educating workers about Bangladesh labor law, International Labor Organization standards, and brands' Codes of Conduct (including Walmart's) that apply to production in Bangladesh's ready-made-garment factories.
I respectfully call on you to:
1. Make a clear public statement that Walmart will not tolerate the persisting falsified criminal charges filed by suppliers Nassa Group and Envoy Group. Walmart should immediately cease any and all current contracts with these suppliers and publicly state that Walmart will not do business with either vendor until the charges have been dropped.
2. Insist that the Government of Bangladesh unconditionally restore BCWS’s nongovernmental organization registration with the NGO Affairs Bureau.
I expect to hear a public statement from Walmart that you have taken immediate effective action to protect labor rights defenders in Bangladesh. I also look forward to hearing that Walmart is taking concrete steps toward fair business practices in your relationships with suppliers in order to ensure decent working conditions and good wages.