The statement, released on 8 November expressed concern over the escalating and ongoing repression of workers and trade unionists in Bangladesh the US called on the government of Bangladesh to safeguard workers’ rights to peaceful protest and investigate allegations of false criminal charges against workers and labour leaders.

The last few weeks have seen civil unrest and demonstrations in Bangladesh which intensified after the fourth meeting of the country’s wage board on 22 October, where garment factory owners proposed to increase the minimum wage to TK10,400, half of what the union had initially proposed.

This followed another meeting where Siddiqur Rahman, a representative of the apparel factory owners to the minimum wage board set up by the government, submitted a revised proposal of Tk12,500 as the new minimum wage for apparel workers in Bangladesh, according to a local news publication, The Daily Star.

However, the wage set for the apparel sector workers was still below what the workers’ representative on the wage board, Sirajul Islam Rony, had proposed in the previous meeting leading to continued protest which began to turn “violent.”

In the statement, the US mourned the tragic incidents during the protests in Bangladesh involving Rasel Howlader, a 26-year-old factory worker and union member from Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, who was reportedly killed by the police last week and the loss of Imran Hossain, a 32-year-old worker who died in a fire set by protestors inside a Dhaka factory.

“We extend our condolences to their families and the greater labour communities,” said Miller.

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A commendation was offered to members of the private sector who have endorsed union proposals for a reasonable wage increase.

The US urged a revisitation of the minimum wage decision through the tripartite process to address the growing economic pressures faced by workers and their families.

The commitment to fostering a favourable environment for workers’ rights was mentioned, with an emphasis on freedom of association and collective bargaining without the fear of violence, reprisal, or intimidation.

The statement concluded: “Through our work in Bangladesh and globally, we are firmly committed to advancing these fundamental human rights.”

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Exporters Association has encouraged its member factories to upcharge on the goods it exports, warning that the wage hikes will be difficult for factory owners to meet in the current climate.