Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

Bangladeshi factory workers at Dutch sweet maker attacked after opening union

A union representative says 20 attackers entered the Perfetti factory and beat him up in front of company officials

Garment workers protest for higher wages in Dhaka, Bangladesh, January 9, 2019. The conditions of workers rights has come under scrutiny as international firms hire local workers. Reuters
Garment workers protest for higher wages in Dhaka, Bangladesh, January 9, 2019. The conditions of workers rights has come under scrutiny as international firms hire local workers. Reuters

One of the world’s biggest confectionary makers has opened up an investigation after workers at its Bangladesh factory were attacked just weeks after opening a union.

Perfetti Van Melle, maker of sweets such as Mentos sold in US, Europe and across the Middle East, confirmed that it took place at their Gazipur factory based in a district of the country’s capital city, Dhaka, and told the National of their “regret” that the attack happened

“Perfetti Van Melle regrets that this incident took place,” a spokesperson from its headquarters in the Netherlands told The National in an email.

“Securing the safety of our employees at work is our responsibility. We are investigating the incident and we have taken measures to protect the safety of all employees in our factory in Gazipur,” she added.

Kamrul Hasan, chosen to be the new trade union general secretary, says 20 attackers entered the Perfetti sweet making factory and physically attacked him in front of company officials.

Speaking to Reuters, Mr Hasan claims “no one did anything” to stop the attacks.

The Bangladeshi Perfetti worker added that the Dutch company’s local managers resisted the idea of the 250 permanent staff joining or creating their own union to protect their rights.

“After we formed the union, we applied to the ministry to get it registered as per the law,” he said.

“When the management came to know about this, they did not allow me and four others to enter the factory for five days. I was threatened.”

Local laws allow for the formation of unions, which Dutch firm Perfetti Van Melle says it adheres to.

Workers rights in Bangladesh have come under the spotlight since the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse.

The disaster was one of the world’s worst industrial catastrophes in history leaving over 2,500 people injured and killing 1,135 workers.

The collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka was caused by four upper floors having been built without permission on unstable ground.

Bangladesh has become a pivotal hub for international firms, providing cheap labour and low costs particularly for the fashion industry.

A report released by New York University’s Centre for Business and Human Rights in 2018 found that Bangladeshi factory workers continue to face “life threatening” conditions at work.

Almost 3,000 of Bangladesh’s 7,000 factories endanger the lives of their low-wage garment workers.

As well as health and safety concerns, many Bangladeshi factory workers have raised concerns over pay.

One person was killed when police fired rubber bullets at 5,000 protestors in January demanding better pay.

Factory bosses subsequently sacked the 5,000 workers, some of whom worked for retail giants such as H&M and Walmart.

Updated: April 12, 2019 08:35 PM

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