On the night of June 25, a group of miscreants attacked readymade garment workers’ leader Shahidul Islam Shahid and two of his companions in the Shataish Baganbari area of Gazipur. Shahid was later declared dead on arrival at a local hospital.
His murder immediately sparked workers' protests while the US Solidarity Center and US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter D Haas raised their voices on this issue.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Faruque Hassan spoke to The Business Post's Arifur Rahaman Tuhin on Monday about the murder and related issues.
The trade unions have accused the factory authorities of being involved in Shahid’s murder. How is BGMEA looking at this?
Faruque: Workers, their leaders and owners — we are all one family. We are saddened by his death. BGMEA has already expressed condolences. However, it is yet to be confirmed whether he was killed or if it was a natural death. We have heard that he was a cardiac patient, and the initial medical report indicated no significant signs of physical trauma on his body. Police are investigating, and we will receive confirmation regarding the responsible party once the probe report is released.
Trade unions have already claimed that he was murdered and Prince Jacquard was directly involved. They also filed a case and demonstrated demanding justice. What’s your take on this?
Faruque: Yes. We have already familiarised ourselves with the issue. The factory owner's name was not mentioned in the statement of the case filed by Kalpona Akter, the executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity. All the accused individuals are associated with the trade union. She mentioned a person named Hanif as a factory manager, but the authorities have confirmed that no one by that name works at the factory. We believe that if Shahid was indeed murdered, the responsibility could lie in the conflicts among the trade unions.
Kolpona has told The Business Post that they believe the factory authority was involved in the attack and that’s why they have directly accused the owners in the case.
Faruque: I understand. However, the factory authorities have confirmed to us that they are not involved. Since the police are currently investigating, it would be prudent for us not to make further comments on this issue. Nevertheless, I would like to inform you that nearly 30 trade unions are operating in the Gazipur area, and there is a significant conflict among them. Therefore, we cannot dismiss the possibility that Shahid's murder could be related to those ongoing conflicts.
The factory in question had failed to pay wages for two months, which resulted in workers' protests led by Shahid. Owners had assured that wages would be paid on June 25. However, they did not respond as promised on that day. Instead, a group of miscreants attacked Shahid that night. Did BGMEA know about this, and how can you be certain that the factory owners are not involved?
Faruque: We have learned that there was a problem at the factory. They failed to pay wages due to a deferred payment from a US buyer. When BGMEA is informed about any factory facing a crisis, we extend our support to resolve the issue. However, in the case of Prince Jacquard, they did not inform BGMEA before the incident. The statement claiming that the factory owners are not involved in the murder was based on the case statement and the claims made by Prince Jacquard. It is still unclear what the motive was. However, a group indeed attacked them. I want to stress that all details will be clarified once the investigation is complete.
Another leader of the same worker organisation, Aminul Islam, was killed in 2012, and the case remains unsolved. Now another leader has been murdered. Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity receives funding from the Solidarity Center, which is the largest US-based international worker rights organisation. US representatives, including the country's ambassador, have already spoken out about these cases. Given that the US is our largest export destination; could these murders have a negative impact on buyers and brands?
Faruque: Bangladesh and RMG factory owners believe in trade unions and workers' rights. Dozens of unions are active here, and our labour laws are designed to protect workers' rights. The two murders are isolated incidents. Just like the recent killing of a teenager in France, it does not imply that France is not following human rights. I believe that the murder of the labour leader will not significantly impact RMG exports, as we are diligently practising labour laws. We also believe that this will not hurt the RMG sector’s reputation. We urge the government to determine the motive behind Shahid's death and ensure that anyone involved, including the factory owners, faces appropriate punishment. BGMEA is ready to cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies.