bangladesh, bangladesh garment exports, bangladesh garment workers, bangladesh economy, trade unions bangladesh rmg, crackdown on trade unions in bangladesh
Employees work in a factory of Babylon Garments in Dhaka January 3, 2014 (representational image).Reuters file

Bangladesh's garment export industry averted a showdown between the government and global fashion chains after the retailers attended the Dhaka Apparel Summit 2017, as opposed to the earlier decision to boycott the event to protest against the government crackdown on "unregistered" trade unions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). H&M, Inditex (Zara), C&A, Next and Tchibo attended the event after the government agreed to release detained labour leaders and workers.

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The detentions were made in December last year in response to protests by workers at Ashulia. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) had complained that NGOs had "instigated" the workers. 

"...we changed our decision (to boycott the Summit) as the government assured us that steps will be taken for the release of the detained workers and worker leaders, who were arrested at Ashulia for their alleged involvement in labour unrest in December last year," a senior executive at one of the above-mentioned companies was quoted as saying by the Daily Star.

The detentions had sparked a chain of global protests in Berlin, Geneva, London, Brussels, The Hague, Washington DC, New York, Ottawa, Kathmandu, and Seoul.

"This crackdown is about denying workers in the Bangladeshi garment industry the right to organise unions and collectively bargain for decent wages. We call on the Bangladesh government and the BGMEA to put a halt to this harassment and respect the workers who create wealth for their country while receiving a pittance," the Dhaka Tribune had quoted UNI Global Union Deputy General Secretary Christy Hoffman as saying.

Bangladesh, India's eastern neighbour, exported garments worth $28.09 billion in the financial year 2015-16, up 10.2 percent from $25.49 billion in the previous financial year. Knitwear accounted for $13.3 billion while woven products raked in $14.7 billion, according to the Dhaka Tribune.

In comparison, India's textile and clothing exports fell 2.43 percent to $36.74 billion in 2015-16. Apparel exports stood at $16.99 billion.