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Statement of solidarity: Oxfam condemns the killing of union leader, Shahidul Islam 

Textile workers are working inside a garment factory in Bangladesh. Photo: Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

Oxfam stands in solidarity with the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), trade union leaders and all human rights defenders who stand up for workers’ rights and protect human rights.

Oxfam learned of the horrific news of the brutal murder of Shahidul Islam, a union leader who was beaten to death on June 25th for his labour rights activism in Gazipur, a major garment industry hub on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He was an organizer of the BGIWF for 25 years advocating for workers’ rights as a trade union organizer, and was attacked and killed for standing up for basic human rights. We mourn not only the loss of an individual but also the loss of a powerful voice that championed the rights and well-being of workers, including the right to a living wage. We extend our sincere condolences to the grieving family, friends, colleagues and allies mourning his loss.

Kalpona Akter, the president of BGIWF, said: “Shahidul mobilised thousands of workers to join unions, empowering them to become solid factory-level trade union leaders. Throughout his life, he assisted thousands of workers in receiving arrears and severance pay wrongfully denied by their employers. With workers’ needs always in mind, Shahidul and three other union leaders met on the evening of his death to discuss a peaceful resolution to a wage dispute and the Eid-ul-Azha festival bonus. He met his fate due to the industry’s ill practice to promote yellow unionism for years and the neglect of workers’ voices. This needs to stop. Let our workers be free to organize and join unions. Shahid’s contributions to the labour movement were remarkable and will be sorely missed.”

Ahmed Sharif, a union organizer who was wounded in the attack, told the Guardian “As soon as we came out of the gate, a group of assailants grabbed Islam and separated him from us. They started cursing and randomly beating us, particularly Islam, some of them were kicking him mercilessly.”

As an organization dedicated to the fight to end poverty and injustice, we are deeply concerned by the murder of Shahidul Islam. This tragic incident highlights the vulnerability of union leaders and activists fighting for workers’ rights. Oxfam joins BGIWF in demanding a thorough investigation and ensure justice is served for the death of Islam. We further call on all brands and stakeholders to conduct ethical purchasing practices upholding human rights within their supply chain and paying a living wage. We call on the government of Bangladesh to step up their protection of trade unionists who are exercising their fundamental human rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Oxfam stands in solidarity with BGIWF, raising a resounding call for justice in the case of Shahidul Islam and demanding the unwavering safety of workers, union members and human rights defenders. We stand united in their relentless struggle to defend workers’ rights at Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd factory and in workplaces across Bangladesh. Together we demand accountability and an end to the systemic violations that perpetuate injustice.

#Justice4Shahidul

Background

Shahidul and his colleagues were attacked after leaving the meeting with the management of a factory named Price Jacquard Sweaters Ltd to help the workers collect their due bonuses and wages. The factory management refused to comply despite being directed by the Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) office of Gazipur District to pay the workers’ salaries.

This is not the first time BGIWF has been the victim of such a fatal attack. Eleven years ago, in April 2012, another worker leader, Aminul Islam was tortured and murdered. Aminul was also an organizer with BGIWF, a vital contributor to the nation’s striving movement to advance workers’ rights. The murders of human rights defenders exemplify the extreme measures employed to suppress freedom of association in Bangladesh.

The tragic death of Shahidul, along with countless incidents of other workers being silenced by violence and fear, highlight the urgent need for change. Brands are responsible for ethical business practices and need to ensure that their purchasing practices are not leading to exploitation and deprivation of human rights. Brands must guarantee the right to a living wage and just, safe and healthy working conditions for garment workers.

Despite legal provisions, union leaders and activists face many challenges and restrictions such as anti-union discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against union leaders and members. Additionally, labour activists have raised concerns about the composition and independence of worker participation committees in factories. Labour activists argue that these ‘yellow unions’ are established by factory owners to exert control on workers raising concerns of workers’ rights to collective bargaining and discriminatory power dynamics.

Oxfam CanadaOxfam Australia and Oxfam Aotearoa’s What She Makes campaign aims to transform the fashion industry into a more just and equitable space by holding brands accountable for their purchasing practices and advocating for a living wage. A living wage is the minimum amount that a worker should earn in a 48-hour work week and adequately covers workers’ and their family’s basic needs, including food, water, housing, energy, healthcare, clothing, childcare, education, transportation and savings for unexpected events. We stand united with the women who make our clothes, advocating for their right to living wages, freedom of association and labour rights.