The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) organised the Dhaka Garment Summit at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in the Bangladeshi capital, despite boycott of the event by top international apparel brands like H&M, Inditex, C&A, Next and Tchibo.
The five leading international brands had boycotted the event in response to right groups call to bring to an end to the repression of garment workers and union leaders by the Bangladesh government.
The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), an alliance whose members include H&M, Inditex, C&A, Next and Tchibo, said it was pulling out of the event after the only scheduled speaker representing a labour union due to “an increasingly hard-line response” by authorities and industry.
The German Retail Association and trade union federation also expressed concerns about the reported arrests and dismissal of garments workers in a joint letter to the government.
However, Bangladeshi government and apparel industry officials dismissed allegations that the rights of garment workers had deteriorated after workers protested in Dhaka’s Ashulia industrial district in December 2016 demanding higher pay, while the BGMEA said that the decision by the five western retailers to boycott the summit was “unfortunate”.
The summit which was hosted by the BGMEA, theindustry body which represents 4,500 clothing factories, featured Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as its keynote speaker.
The development comes after thousands of garment workers went on strike in December 2016 in the industrial town of Ashualia and staged mass protests demanding a three-fold hike in pay, which is US $68 a month.
“C&A together with other apparel brands, including H&M and Inditex decided not to participate in the BGMEA Dhaka Apparel Summit,” according to a statement issued by C&A’s spokesperson.
“We strongly encourage the Government of Bangladesh to take immediate steps to ensure the protection of workers’ rights, with special attention to legitimate workers’ representatives who have been arrested,” according to the statement.
“H&M believes that attending the Dhaka Apparel Summit would create confusion and send the wrong signals regarding our commitment to freedom of association and that the ongoing situation must be peacefully resolved,” Swedish apparel brand H&M’s spokesperson stated.
As per reports in the Bangladesh media, the local government ruthlessly suppressed the strike which lasted for more than two weeks. Some 1,600 employees were sacked and 34 were arrested, while criminal cases were filed against more than 1,500 garment workers.
Meanwhile, international rights group Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) welcomed the decision of the brands to boycott the summit saying that it would be “a major embarrassment” for the Bangladesh government and the BGMEA which organised the event.
“Unless all detainees are released, unsubstantiated charges are dropped, and other acts of intimidation as well as harassment of trade unions are stopped, the brands cannot participate in a summit on sustainable growth of the industry,” according to a CCC statement.