BANGLADESH/SOUTH KOREA: Rights group exposes Korean employers’ atrocities on workers with direct participation of Bangladeshi agencies 

Dear friends,

We wish to share with you the following statement from Korean House for International Solidarity. For further information, the following person can be contacted on this regard:

Mr. Na Hyun-Pil
Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)
Address: 2/F, 184-2, Pilwun-dong, Jongro-gu,
Seoul 110-044, Republic of Korea
Tel: +82 2-736-5808 or 5809
Fax: +82 2-736-5810

Asian Human Rights Commission
Hong Kong

A Statement from Korean House for International Solidarity forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

BANGLADESH/SOUTH KOREA: Rights group exposes Korean employers’ atrocities on workers with direct participation of Bangladeshi agencies

Press Conference:

Report of Fact Finding Mission on Demonstration of workers of Youngone Trading in Chittagong.

Many people eye-witnessed that their colleagues were found with their wrists and ankles cut and blooding after meeting with managers in one of Youngone factories in Chittagong.

This statement is prepared by Korean House for International Solidarity, Advocates for Public Interest Law, Public Interest Lawyers Group ‘Gong-gam’, Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

While most of what we found through this mission confirms what has been reported on the demonstration, there are some new facts which have not been revealed but are very important to explain the whole picture of the incident.

1. Background

According to Media, Workers at Youngone Trading, a South Korean company located in the Export Processing Zone in Chittagong and Dhaka, Bangladesh, organized a strike to demand a higher salary. Police authorities suppressed the strike in which participated thousands of workers. It is reported that during the crackdown, at least 3 people were killed, 250 people were injured on 11 and 12 December 2010 and approximately 30,000 workers were prosecuted . There is no clear information on the reason why Youngone workers organized serious demonstration despite of expected severe suppression by government and better working conditions which claimed by Youngone Trading. Youngone Trading is the biggest apparel manufacturer in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, the Garment and Textile industry constitutes 80 per cent of the total export. South Korean companies, including Youngone Trading, are very influential players in readymade garment industry. The company which claims that the demonstration was intervened by outsiders and its properties were vandalized. In addition, the chairperson of the company had an interview with a South Korean media claiming that the demonstration was instigated by outsiders.

South Korean civil society organizations expressed their interest in the issues relating with the incident last December 11 and 12th and organized a press conference for Mosherfa Mishu in front of Bangladesh Embassy in Seoul on 26 Jan. In order to clarify the accountability about the incidents, some of South Korean civil society organizations formed Korean Fact Finding Team on Youngone.

2. The facts our team confirmed

The problem started from the day when workers get pay slips on 6th Dec. 2010. Bangladesh Governments new EPZ pay scale was declared on September 2010, effected on November 2010. And the 1st new pay day according to the new scale salary was 6th Dec. 2010.

Workers of Youngone were confused and disappointed with their new salaries in contrast with their expectation after the introduction of new minimum salary scale. Because the size of salary increases of careered workers were lower than the ones of new workers and allowance which has been given for inflation was deducted.

But none of their supervisors, managers, general managers or directors did not make any serious efforts to clarify their confusions about the new salaries. And in the situation where their rights to association, bargain and strike are denied, there are not many ways for workers to raise this problems to managers of Youngone at Chittagong.

3. New facts our team found

(1) The claim by Youngone that agitations on 11th and 12th were caused by outsiders is not the case.

High officials in BEPZA emphasized repeatedly that the incident was caused by Youngone workers, not outsiders. Encouraged by work stoppages by Youngone workers in Dhaka on 7th Dec 2010 and strikes by other company workers in Chittagong since 8th Dec 2010. Youngone workers in Chittagong decided to express their complaint on 11th Dec 2010 after few day discussion and consideration. Some workers attempted to send their delegates to high authorities of Youngone at Chittagong to discuss about their new salaries, others started 1 hour work stoppage on 11th Dec 2010. This is the beginning of the incident.

(2) Many people testified that they eye-witnessed that 3 workers in YSL factory of Youngone were found with their ankles and wrists cut and blooding and 5 workers including these 3 injured workers missing until now.

Our witnesses testified that workers in one of Youngone factories in Chittagong called YSL on 11th Dec 2010 were taking turns for 1 hour work stoppage after lunch. And there was some shouting between the managers and workers in the factory. A manger physically abused one woman worker in 3th floor of the factory who was making strong complaint. When co-workers from different floors protested the physical abusing, the manager called 5 male and female workers who complained strongly. While workers were waiting for their colleagues, one of female worker who had been called by the manager telephoned one of workers in the floor saying at around 4:00 P.M. “what you guys are doing there, we are dying up here”. At this time managers ordered workers to go home turning off power, but workers declined to leave the factory saying they would not leave until their colleagues were coming back. After few minutes as our witnesses testified, some of the workers started searching for their colleagues and they found two of their male colleagues with their wrists and ankles cut and blooding losing their consciousness at 4:30~5:00 P.M.. Workers became furious at what happened to their colleagues and used violence against managers in order to make them to tell their colleagues’ whereabouts. The injured workers were transferred to the hospital in Chittagong Medical, near Chak bazaar right after they were founded injured. But it is reported that the injured transferred to the hospital disappeared and rest of colleagues called by the manager on 11th Dec 2010 have been still missing. Workers from other Youngone factories rushed to YSL factory knowing the incident and they were protesting this incident asking managers to turn their colleagues back. Many workers came over there with big rally and more than 10,000 workers gathered. At around 6:30 workers came to know where another male worker was from the high officials of Youngone by beating them to tell the missing colleagues whereabouts. When people found him at the 5th floor of the factory, his ankles and wrist also were injured and blooding.

(3) Police used metal bullets for crackdown on demonstrators on 12th Dec. 2010

On 11th Dec. 2010, Police came to the factory and rescued the Youngone officials from workers. They broke the gathered workers demanding their missing colleagues with baton and tear gas and succeeded send them home near midnight.

On 12th Dec. morning, workers saw small posters about a layoff of Youngone factories everywhere in EPZ. While other companies in EPZ also closed their factory and made safe return of their workers through the north & south pocket gates, thousand Youngone workers who consitituted most of demonstrators gathered in front of BEPZA office from 8:00 A.M demanding opening the factories, increasing their salaries and bringing back their missing co-workers. With Police surrounding workers inside & outside BEPZA(Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority) office, near 10am to 10:30am some women workers had oral confrontation with police saying “police should do something to find their missing colleagues”. Police responded promptly with batons and injured two workers severely. It made demonstrators angry and more violent. Police closed all the gates of EPZ and pushed demonstrators to the front gate near the BEPZA authority office. It made workers more angry and to express their anger with burning cars around them. Suppressing the demonstrators, police fired metal bullets resulting in at least 3 peoples.

(4) Many witnesses and participants in demonstration in danger of arbitrary arrest and Threat.
How many Youngone workers were missing and being in detention has not been properly calculated. AA manager from one of the Youngone factories told us that at the time they reopened the factories, 10% of workers which are 3,600 did not come to work. But some workers told us that the number may escalate into 30%. Many of people we met were very scared of being arrested by police and told us and were afraid of visiting the factories to get their unpaid salaries or discharged allowances. There were claims that at least 150 Youngone workers are being in detention facility at Chittagong where tortures happens.

4. Conclusion we made

If the testimonies by our eye-witnesses that their missing colleagues were found with their ankles and wrists cut and blooding is true, it can explains why workers at Youngone Chittagong where there have been no labor unrest since it started used serious violence against mangers. Youngone workers’ anger and violence against their managers and policemen was sparked by dissatisfaction with their new salaries but fueled by what happened to their missing colleagues by managers. We are very much suspicious that Youngone managers has been covering up this incident happening to missing 5 youngone workers with cooperation of police.

5. Requests by the Fact Finding Mission team:

(1) We urge Youngone company to explain clearly about the claims by many eye-witnesses that 5 Youngone workers called by managers of YSL factory were found with their ankles and wrists cut and blooding and to open their CCTV films posted at 3rd floor of the YSL factory.

(2) We urge Bangladesh government, particularly Enquiry Committee on Youngone to carry out neutral and independent investigation with participation of Human rights Experts of International Society. We also urge that Bangladesh government not to make any harm to our witnesses for cooperation with our fact finding mission. We urge Bangladesh government to release Ms. Mishu and other labor leaders promptly. We urge Bangladesh government to stop arrest of participants of the demonstration immediately and give proper remedies to victims of the crackdown.

(3) We urge buyers of production of Youngone to investigate on practices of Youngone managers whether they are respecting all the relevant human rights norms, particularly at the time of the demonstration. We also urge them to investigate whether there is cooperation between the company and police to cover up the human rights violation and suppress the labor’s rights.

(4) We urge Korean government to pay attention on Youngone company in Chittagong in terms of human rights violation.

(5) We urge international society to monitor whether security of Youngone workers who can verify the truth on the incident will be guaranteed.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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Document Type : Forwarded Statement
Document ID : AHRC-FST-011-2011
Countries : Bangladesh, South Korea,
Issues : Labour rights, Migrant workers,