June 27, 2023
Clean Clothes Campaign has learned of the horrific news of the brutal murder of Shahidul Islam, a union leader who was beaten to death for his labour rights activism in Tongi, Gazipur, Bangladesh. As an organiser of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) for 25 years, he fought for worker rights as a trade union organiser and died fighting for his beliefs. We would like to offer our sincere condolences to his family, friends and comrades mourning his loss.
The Bangladesh government should immediately and impartially investigate the murder of Shahidul Islam and take punitive actions against the perpetrators of this horrendous killing.
Shahidul, president of BGIWF’s Gazipur district committee and his colleagues were attacked after leaving the meeting with the management at a Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd factory 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.
According to import data evidence, T.K. Maxx, Tessival, Global Fashion Icon, N.E Brands LCC, Suzy's Inc, RD Style and New Yorker seem to be sourcing from Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd. The US, Canada, Italy, Spain and Denmark are major export areas. CCC is currently collecting more data on the buyers that source from the factory and will update accordingly.
As the group left the meeting, Shahidul and the other union representatives were approached by a group that attacked them. The attackers viciously punched and kicked Shahidul, leaving him unconscious and critically wounded. He was declared dead in a nearby hospital. This horrendous violence represents an immense loss for the Bangladesh labour movement.
The other representatives received medical treatment but weren't admitted to the hospital.
Kalpona Akter, the president of BGIWF, said: “Shahidul mobilised thousands of workers to join unions, empowering them to become solid factory-level 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 worker representatives 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 promotion of yellow unionism for years and the neglect of workers' voices. His contributions to the labour movement were remarkable and will be sorely missed.”
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 organiser with BGIWF, a key player in the country’s movement to advance worker rights.
The murders of the unionists illustrate the extreme measures devised to suppress freedom of association in Bangladesh. We fear that much like Aminul’s killing in 2012, Shahidul Islam’s murder will contribute to worker intimidation, making the task of organising even more difficult for union leaders. By many accounts, workers in Bangladesh are systematically repressed by employers utilising criminal groups and yellow unions to terrorise workers organising independent democratic unions.
Ineke Zeldenrust, the International Coordinator at Clean Clothes Campaign, said: “The CCC network joins all those who grieve the loss of Shahidul Islam. We also stand in solidarity with BGIWF, all those who fight to exercise their rights to freedom of association and the many workers and union members who continue putting themselves at risk to defend workers’ rights and safety in factories across Bangladesh.”
Shahidul leaves behind a wife suffering from cancer and two sons and was the sole breadwinner of his family. Furthermore, his wife is a former organiser battling cancer, adding to their already challenging circumstances.
More on the 2012 murder of Aminul Islam
View the Rana Plaza Timeline to see the history of the fight for freedom of association in Bangladesh
CCC is currently confirming and collecting data on other buyers sourcing from Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd.