Employees claimed that Debenhams fired them illegally and is now committing fraud by running the business again, through third parties, without clearing the workers’ dues
Bangladeshi employees of the British upscale brand Debenhams, who were laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic, are uncertain about getting their dues.
The brand, which used to purchase garments worth more than Tk900 crore, annually, from Bangladeshi manufacturers, closed its Bangladesh liaison office in April. It laid off all of its 69 local employees without paying their dues.
The British brand had opened the liaison office in 2013.
The struggling British department store, which has about $69 million liabilities to its Bangladeshi suppliers–as the cost of shipped goods, ready goods and fabrics plus accessories–has meanwhile illegally resumed its business operations through third parties, without respecting its employees, alleged the Debenhams Bangladesh Employees Union (DBEU).
"The British company has not followed any legal processes and did not even seek permission from the regulatory body in Bangladesh to stop its operations," said Bahauddin Mohammad Ataullah, president of DBEU, an organisation of former officers of the Debenhams's liaison office in Bangladesh.
"We have come to know that the company has resumed its business through third parties without paying any dues and respecting the rights of the employees," he added.
Speaking at a press conference at the Dhaka Reporters Unity on Saturday, the DBEU leader alleged that Debenhams is committing an act of fraud by illegally resuming its business through third parties, without clearing the dues of its employees.
"Such activities of the organisation are in violation of international labour laws. Moreover, the organisation is ignoring rules of the existing regulatory body of the country which is not acceptable. Such acts of fraud must stop now," he added.
The indebted retailer had problems before the health crisis and it has, meanwhile, filed for bankruptcy.
He said that the company did not follow the rules of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) while closing its local liaison office.
"The issue of office closures must be published in one of the most popular newspapers at least three months before the closure."
He said, "Due to non-compliance with all these legal procedures, Bangladeshi suppliers and vendors have now filed anonymous cases against us. As a result, we are in a financial crisis as well as a social and legal crisis."
"Many of these dismissed officers and employees were living a miserable life. I am demanding fair pay, especially the full payment of salary for a four months' notice period, two festival bonuses, payment against their earned leaves and gratuity. This is our fair right. I seek the cooperation of the regulatory body in realising this fair right of every employee of the organisation," he added.
Ghulam Murshed, a trustee of Bangladesh Labour Institute, said, "It is not desirable from a British company to disobey laws and regulations in conducting business in Bangladesh."
He demanded that the British high commissioner to Bangladesh and the regulatory bodies in Bangladesh take immediate action if there is any violation of laws in this regard.