An international study report has accused a number of readymade garments factories of exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to sack workers for their affiliation with trade unions.
Those factories also produce apparels for different major brands–H&M, Primark, Inditex, Levi Strauss & Co, Mango, Bestseller, Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Kate Spade.
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) recently conducted the study styled "Union busting & unfair dismissals: Garment workers during Covid-19".
According to the report, in one case, workers were dismissed just hours after union representatives had requested the factory management to increase protections for workers against Covid-19 infection; and in another, workers were dismissed three days after registering a new union.
The report says more than 4,870 unionised garment workers have been targeted for dismissal by nine factories supplying apparels for major fashion brands.
The report mentioned that among the "union-busting" factories–three are located in Myanmar, two in Cambodia, one in India and three in Bangladesh.
Of them, Inditex (Zara) has links to five of the factories, H&M to four and Bestseller to two.
Mango, Primark, Levi Strauss & Co, Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Kate Spade (Tapestry) all have links to one of the factories examined in the case studies.
However, Bangladeshi apparel makers claimed that there are no "union-busting" case in the country. Some factories have shut down due to lack of business.
The report mentioned that three factories of Windy Group–SAYBOLT TEX, Tanaz Fashion and Windy Wet and Dry Process–have sacked 3,000 workers due to their union activism.
These factories produce apparels for Inditex and H&M.
"The unions for Windy Group workers claim that each time workers from the three factories have attempted to form unions, they have been dismissed," says the BHRRC report.
"As per our knowledge, there is no case of union-busting in Bangladesh. Particularly, the case of Windy Group factories was a lack of business," said Md Rezwan Selim, director at the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
The owner of these factories have paid his workers the layoff benefits as per the country's law, and in some cases, workers received more, he added.
"Targeting three factories out of eight of Windy Group and retrenching 3,000 workers of these three factories is purposeful and similar to destruction of union," the BHRRC report quoted Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation, as saying.
When contacted on his cellphone on Thursday, Amin took 30 minutes to organise his comment, but did not answer the phone later.
"The dismissed workers have been staging hunger strikes and other protests at Windy Group factory premises to call for reinstatement," the report mentioned.
Salahuddin Shapon, former secretary-general of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, said three Bangladeshi trade unions' representatives had complained about the issue with the IndustriALL Global Union.
He also said that the owner have dismissed the workers with a motive to make the factories nonunionised.
He claimed that the owner have not paid at least 20 to 30 benefits of the dismissed workers.
However, Windy Group Managing Director Mesbah Uddin Khan said he had paid all benefits worth around Tk10 crore to the laid off workers.
Windy Group owns eight garment factories and currently employs about 8,000 workers.
Mesbah said those workers' service tenure is less than one year, they have no laid off benefits as per the law.
He said still he has given them a basic salary from the humanitarian ground and in response to a request by Nazma Akhter, president of Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation.
Nazma is also a signatory at a tripartite agreement over the workers' layoff at Windy Group.
During the pandemic, Windy Group has lost a number of buyers those who have filed for bankruptcy, including Sears, Cielo and Camaieu. The rest of the buyers have also reduced their order placement, said the managing director of the company.
He said Amin, Shapon and Kamrul Hasan, general secretary of Akota Garments Sramik Federation, had made the allegation to IndustriALL Global Union. After that, IndustriALL called an arbitration meeting in June 30. Brands' representatives were present in that meeting but petitioners were absent.
Salahuddin Shapon claimed that they did not attend that meeting due to some technical problem.