The newly formed Danone Workers Union in Bangladesh launched protest actions on October 1, 2022, after months of attacks on worker and trade union rights by local management.
When workers formed a union for the first time January 2022, local management intervened to prevent its formation. Despite the company’s opposition the union was legally registered by the labour department. Every action by management since has shown that the Danone global policies and proclaimed commitments on worker and trade union rights don’t apply in Bangladesh.
Just a month after the union was formed, two active members were targeted and victimized with false charges of misconduct designed to scare workers away from the union. One of the victimized union members was Mohammad Shahabuddin. With no evidence or basis at all for the fabricated allegations, management was forced to withdraw the charges.
The union then submitted a collective bargaining proposal that includes recognition of trade union rights, improved benefits and wage increases that would potentially lift workers out of poverty. Although management agreed to collective bargaining negotiations, senior HR management refused to allow a written record of the meetings.
In a company that claims far-reaching and extensive accountability, the refusal of local management to maintain written records of meetings raises serious concerns. More so because Danone claims to be a “social enterprise”.
To undermine the union’s collective bargaining efforts and repeated demands for a written record of these meetings, management again filed false charges against Mohammad Shahabuddin and two others in August. Local management’s failure to make an example of Mohammad Shahabuddin in February led to a more aggressive attack on workers’ rights seven months later.
With complete disregard for legal compliance, management formed an internal inquiry committee to investigate the claims against Mohammad Shahabuddin. The senior HR manager who tried to terminate him in February chaired the committee. Despite the legal right to union representation, Mohammad Shahabuddin, management appointed his representative.
The union fought to exercise the legal right to represent Mohammad Shahabuddin. Local management initially refused, but finally relented after the union escalated the issue of an illegal inquiry process. However, the senior HR manager then issued findings without any opportunity for Mohammad Shahabuddin to be represented by his union representatives. Despite this clear violation of the law, Mohammad Shahabuddin was terminated with a letter back-dated to September 12, 2022. This time management at Danone’s “social enterprise” could made its message to all workers very clear.
The union sent a protest letter on September 23 which management ignored. As a result the union launched protest actions on October 1.