By Bjorn Claeson and Liana Foxvog, SweatFree Communities
ILRF has learned that one of the most pernicious cases against Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) staff has been dismissed. Nassa, a major Walmart supplier, had accused BCWS’s Babul Akhter and Aminul Islam of extortion, which could have resulted in sentences of between five years to lifetime in prison. At the time of the alleged incident Mr. Akhter was in court dealing with the government’s cancellation of BCWS’s NGO registration. Mr. Islam was in a BCWS office 50 kilometers from Nassa.
The dismissal of the extortion case is a major victory for everyone who has campaigned so hard over the last few months to hold both government and major buyers accountable for treatment of the Bangladeshi labor rights leaders. But there are ten cases remaining, all based on unsubstantiated and false charges, so the campaign continues. ILRF’s tracking of the cases and supply chain research indicates that Walmart suppliers or service providers are linked to at least five of the cases filed; so please tell Walmart to act fast to get these charges dropped.
Accused labor rights leader speaks at Walmart annual shareholder meeting
The dismissal of the extortion case follows a petition drive in which more than 110,000 people (so far) worldwide have called on Walmart to denounce the false charges against BCWS labor rights leaders and urged the company to cease business with two suppliers, including Nassa, responsible for instigating several cases. Kalpona Akter, Executive Director of BCWS, hand-delivered the petitions to Walmart CEO, Mike Duke, at the Walmart shareholder meeting on June 3rd before she spoke to more than 15,000 shareholders and Walmart associates.
Ms. Akter thanked New York City Comptroller, John Liu, for giving her this opportunity. "It was a great opportunity to interact directly with decision-makers at Walmart like CEO Mike Duke,” Ms. Akter said after the shareholder meeting. “Afterwards I spoke with several Walmart associates. They told me things like, ‘Well said,’ ‘Great that you brought this issue here,' 'I appreciated hearing your story,' and 'I sympathize with you.'"
Making connections: Workers who make, warehouse, and sell Walmart products
Following the Walmart Shareholder meeting, activists distributed fliers at Walmart stores across the country while Ms. Akter joined Making Change at Walmart in a West Coast speaking tour called, “Sweatshop, Warehouse, Walmart: A Worker Truth Tour,” which built on a similar Midwest and East Coast tour two months earlier. She met with a broad range of community organizations and with Walmart associates and Walmart warehouse workers who are employed by temp agencies rather than Walmart itself.
After meeting a worker in California who had sustained an injury to his eye while on the job and another worker who had injured his leg at the warehouse, Ms. Akter reflected that these workplace injuries are no different from what happens in Walmart's supplier factories in Bangladesh. In Seattle, Walmart associates were visibly moved by Ms. Akter’s story of persecution, imprisonment, and beatings of labor rights leaders. Her courage in the face of such challenges was deeply inspiring to them. The Walmart associates shared their own fears of losing their job in economic downturn or being fired for standing up for their rights. A member of the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans termed the meeting "history-making"—the beginning of a movement that goes beyond Walmart, beyond big box stores, and connects workers at different ends in global supply chains for dignity and rights on the job.