Thursday, January 31, 2008

US Group Anti-sweatshop investigator arrested, held incommunicado in Bangladesh

Global Campaign Sparked as 178-member U.S. University Labor Rights Consortium Raises Alarm

The arrest by the Bangladeshi government of an investigator for a leading America labor rights watchdog group has sparked a global campaign to secure his release.

Mehedi Hasan, field investigator for the Washington D.C.-based Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), was arrested by government security forces on January 24th and has since been held in detention, incommunicado. The WRC is a Washington, D.C.-based labor rights monitoring organization working on behalf of 178 universities and colleges.

Human rights groups and labor rights advocates around the globe have joined the WRC in demanding Mr. Hasan's release. The US government and major apparel brands and retailers that produce clothing in the country have also weighed in with the Bangladeshi government.

Mr. Hasan's arrest appears to be part of a broader campaign of repression by the government against labor rights advocates in the wake of recent demonstrations by apparel workers in Dhaka, the capital city. An employee of the AFL-CIO's office in Dhaka was arrested a week earlier than Mr. Hasan and there are reportedly arrest warrants out for a number of Bangladeshi worker rights advocates.

Bangladesh is run by a military-backed "caretaker" government and the country's human rights practices have come under increasing criticism. The security forces are operating under "emergency rules" decreed by the government, which suspend basic civil liberties. Mr. Hasan's family's repeated requests to see him have been denied. The authorities apparently plan to subject him to a range of bogus criminal charges.

Said WRC Executive Director, Scott Nova, "There is no legitimate reason for Mehedi Hasan's arrest and we call upon the government of Bangladesh to effect his immediate and unconditional release. We are deeply concerned for his safety." Nova cited fears that Mr. Hasan may have been subjected to physical mistreatment while in custody.

Mr. Hasan's job is to monitor compliance with labor rights codes of conduct that the WRC's member universities apply to the production of clothing bearing their names and logos. The organization also does labor rights monitoring for the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. The kind of monitoring work done by Mr. Hasan is commonplace in Bangladesh and in other apparel exporting countries and plays an important role in ensuring that goods imported into the US are not made under sweatshop conditions.

Mr. Hasan's detention appears to be retaliation for his efforts, on the WRC's behalf, to protect the rights of workers in apparel factories in Dhaka that sell to US brands. Said Nova, "The government's actions are an attack on the independent labor rights monitoring that is essential to ensuring that the clothing worn by US consumers is made under decent working conditions."

Another WRC employee, Bent Gehrt, a Danish national, was in Dhaka with Mr. Hasan during the week of January 20. Mr. Gehrt was detained at Zia International Airport in Dhaka while attempting to board a flight to Bangkok. Mr. Gehrt was subjected to an aggressive interrogation, during which his interrogators made it clear that he and Mr. Hasan had been under surveillance by the security forces for several days. Mr. Gehrt was ultimately allowed to board his flight and leave the country.

In addition to arresting Mehedi Hasan, the government has seized a WRC computer containing records of confidential worker interviews. The WRC stated that it is concerned not only for the safety of Mr. Hasan, but of the workers who provided confidential testimony to the WRC in course of labor rights investigations.

"The government of Bangladesh should recognize that harassment of factory monitors, labor rights advocates, and workers who participate in labor rights inquiries will do serious damage to the country's international reputation," said Nova. "Brands and retailers that buy clothing overseas do not want their products associated with this kind of behavior. If the government of Bangladesh wants to drive away business and undermine the viability of the country's main export sector, this is a good way to do it." #

We condemn this illegal detention of Mehdi Hasan and ask the army backed Caretaker Government to release him immediately. Bangladesh can not afford any more incidents of human rights breaches that will draw international condemnation and alienation. We hope international community, human rights activists and bloggers will come forward to demand Mr. Hasan's immediate release

Posted by Deshi Blogger