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DHAKA – Next and H&M are among western apparel brands currently monitoring the situation in Bangladesh where thousands of garment workers have been sacked for allegedly joining in protests about wages. The Bangladesh authorities have taken a hard line on dissenting workers in recent weeks, despite claims that workers have raised legitimate questions about promised wage increases not materialising. Estimates suggest more than 7,500 workers have now been laid off from dozens of factories, all with union links or who have been involved in demonstrations.

Siddiqur Rahman, head of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association, has said repeatedly that the authorities would take a strong stance on protesting workers in an attempt to avoid a repeat of previous situations where strikes have dragged on for months.

However, union leaders claim many workers have been fired simply for joining unions. Moreover, with the EU currently threatening to remove trading benefits from Myanmar and Cambodia over worker and human rights concerns, the current stance by the Bangladesh authorities appears naïve to say the least.

Union leaders have told the press that Crony Group, East West Industrial Park Ltd and Metro Knitting & Dyeing Mills Ltd have laid off workers, with H&M and Next among their suppliers.

Next has told Reuters its auditing staff on the ground are investigating the situation while H&M said it “regards freedom of association to be a non-negotiable human right,” and it is “deeply concerned by the recent events in the Bangladeshi textile industry.”

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi has urged the International Labour Organization (ILO) to play a role in raising the price of Bangladesh of readymade garment items.

He made the comment while exchanging views with ILO country director Tuomo Poutiainen at his secretariat office.

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