Aminul Islam, a leader of the Banladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, was last seen alive on April 4, 2012 near his office on the outskirts of Dhaka. Family and friends expected to hear the worst when he could not be located for two days. They knew only too well that union leaders and other activist had a way of "disappearing" since the Awami League government came to power in 2009. (trigger warning)
On April 6, 2012, Aminul's body was found in the northern district of Ghatail with signs of torture: his toes had been smashed, his ankles crushed, and a hole had been drilled below one knee. His body was found dumped on the side of a road near a police station. His fellow labor activists say that they recognize these signs of torture. They say that other activist have endured similar brutality at the hands of police and national security forces.
Who is so powerful that they killed Aminul — yet is still untouchable?
Bangladesh is country where less than 1 percent of the workers are represented by unions while 10 percent of parliament is composed of garment factory owners. The police and the national security agents have been given a free hand to suppress labor activism of any kind.
Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothing in the world. Companies in the United States receive 80% of these exports.
Yet Aminul Islam was not one to be easily intimidated. Kalpona Akter, head of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, described Islam as vocal and fearless. "Whenever workers came to him, he took them as his own case, as if it was his own pain."
In 2010, garment workers began to protest wages as low as $21 per month. Islam asked the workers not to vandalize property, but to join the labor groups affiliated with the AFL-CIO instead. In April he was warned by a national security agent to stop discussing labor rights. As protests continued, the registration for the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity was revoked,and Kalpona Akter and Babul Akhter, were arrested. They were accused of inciting worker riots, charges they denied. Aminul Islam faced similar charges.
In June of 2010, Islam was abducted and tortured by a group of thugs. According to his family and colleagues at the Solidarity Center, these thugs were led by an N.S.I. (National Security Intelligence) agent. He was beaten, and threatened with death. The thugs also threatened to kill his family.
During the torture, they told him, "you are trying to become a leader of the workers." They told him, "We follow you. We listen on your phone."
But Aminul Islam, with great courage, continued to work on behalf of his fellow garment workers right up to the time of his murder. He was 40 years old, a devout Muslim, a husband, and the father of three children. If his killing was intended to stop other labor activist from working on behalf of their fellow workers, then the killing of Aminul Islam was in vain. Labor activism continues in Bangladesh today despite continuing threats of arrest, torture, and death.
"For our torture, Walmart is responsible," Kalpona Akter
Akter states that a Walmart subcontractor was present as labor activists were beaten.
Tell Walmart, H&M and Gap: Do your part to stop the murders of garment workers in Bangladesh
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For Further Study or Action
Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity
International Labor Rights Forum
Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights
Enemies of the Nation or
Human Rights Defenders?
Fighting Poverty Wages in Bangladesh 53 page report on the BCWS, and the arrests and torture
of the activists, including Aminul Islam
End the Death Traps Tour
April 25, 2013, San Francisco
Walmart workers join Kalpona Akter and Sumi Abedin,
Bangladesh fatory fire survivor, at protest.