For several years over 680 workers producing Unilever’s Bango in Indonesia have been fighting for the right to negotiate fair wages. In 2021 they launched protest actions demanding a living wage. In July 2022, Unilever responded with its global Living Wage formula. According to Unilever, the Living Wage includes work uniforms, company picnics, mandatory company contributions to government health insurance and pensions, mandatory annual religious allowance, annual bonuses and even death insurance contributions.
Unilever believes uniforms are part of the Living Wage. So all family members benefit from this in meeting their basic needs?
So in effect, all these company expenses including employer contributions to health insurance, pensions and religious allowances required by law, are Unilever’s contribution to a workers’ ability to meet the needs of her family. This leaves actual wages needed to meet living costs much lower because Unilever believes it has already contributed to living costs – with uniforms and company picnics.
The product the workers at the Bango factory make generates so much wealth for Unilever that is is listed in the top 28 Sustainable Living Brands globally. Yet the brand contributes nothing to ensuring workers and their families can live decently. Unilever’s Living Wage now being imposed unilaterally on the workers at Bango simply does not meet basic living costs.
While Unilever claims this Living Wage formula is global, there is no evidence to suggest that the living wage calculations for workers in Europe include company picnics, uniforms or mandatory social and medical benefits, annual bonus, or death insurance.
At the same time Unilever promotes its use of the Living Wage calculated by the Fair Wage Network. The company claims that a living wage is determined for each and every location globally based on an assessment of the cost of living. However, there is no clarity on how the carefully assessed cost of living fits with the Living Wage formula that includes uniforms, picnics and annual bonuses. The most likely answer is that the Living Wage formula simply helps the company come up with a figure close enough to the Fair Wage figure for living costs. The problem is that uniforms, company picnics, mandatory pension contributions and death insurance do not help families meet these living costs.
Deeply frustrated with Unilever’s response and its unfair and irrational use of a Living Wage calculation that has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of living and families’ needs, the union has continued its protest actions.
The union SPMKB, affiliated to the IUF through FSBMM, holds its 14 protest action for a fair wage.
Uniforms are part of Unilever’s Living Wage … meeting the needs of the family!
Members of the the Coca-Cola Employees Union (CCEU) continued their protest actions on July 2, 2022, in response to management’s continued refusal to negotiate good faith and attempts to exclude the company from labour law provisions. Union members are also demanding and end to the violence and threats by goons deployed by Coca-Cola Bangladesh’s 3rd party “waste management” contractor, Md. Shahidul Islam Shahid.
The peaceful protest began on June 4, 2022, but was postponed after goons of Coca-Cola Bangladesh’s 3rd party contractor, Md. Shahidul Islam Shahid, visited workers’ homes and threatened their families with violence. The abduction and vicious beating of the Coca-Cola Bangladesh union president on June 7 by these goons had already created a climate of fear.
The union relocated dozens of union members and their families to temporary accommodation further away from the factory for their safety. The protests in front of the Coca-Cola factory then resumed on July 2.
One of the supervisors of Coca-Cola Bangladesh’s “waste management” contractor videoed the protest to identify the workers who joined the action. The same night goons visited the workers’ homes and threatened them and their families. They also forced workers’ family members to come to the contractor’s office near the factory. They made explicit threats, telling the father of one worker:
He is your only son. He shouldn’t join this protest anymore, otherwise he’ll be in danger.
Using his influence and connections, Md. Shahidul Islam Shahid is also threatening to have landlords to evict union members and their families if the protest continues.
A news story published on June 14 under the headline কোকাকোলার কারখানায় ‘আন্দোলন দমাতে’ শ্রমিকনেতাদের ওপর হামলা [Attack on workers’ leaders to suppress movement at Coca-Cola factory] described last week’s brutal attack on the union president by goons of a 3rd party waste management contractor for Coca-Cola Bangladesh. Within two hours the story disappeared due to what one source simply described as “pressure”.
After being released from hospital and recovering, the union president went to the police station on June 15 to follow up on the complaint filed against Coca-Cola management over his abduction and vicious assault. The police claimed no such complaint exists. This is despite the fact that the Coca-Cola Bangladesh management named in the police complaint had raised concern about allegations of their involvement. Instead of challenging these allegations, the police complaint – like the news story – disappeared.
Meanwhile, goons of the 3rd party waste management contractor providing services to Coca-Cola Bangladesh continued following union members home, intimidating and threatening them. In the factory managers and supervisors told workers they will be terminated if they resume their protest actions.
With protests stopped and the disappearance of the police complaint and the only news media story, the ground has been laid for Coca-Cola Bangladesh to now claim that nothing actually happened. If that occurs, then it will be a massive failure of corporate governance. Making the evidence disappear is not the purpose or intent of the human rights due diligence that should have protected union leaders and members in the first place.
On June 7, three days into a peaceful protest by workers over Coca-Cola Bangladesh management’s refusal to negotiate in good faith and the company’s application for exemption from the labour law, the union president, Abdul Kalam, was abducted and severely beaten by thugs.
The thugs work for a 3rd party contractor, Md. Shahidul Islam Shahid also known as Haji Shahid, who has several contracts with Coca-Cola Bangladesh including scrap metal recycling and waste management.
On June 6, Haji Shahid entered the Coca-Cola factory and met with management. The following day a gang of thugs approached the protesting union members outside the factory, demanding that the union president, Abdul Kalam, come and meet Hazi Shahid. Abdul Kalam refused, saying it was a labour dispute between the union and Coca-Cola management. That afternoon Abdul Kalam was taken off a public bus by Hazi Shahid’s goons and taken away. Several hours later Abdul Kalam was discovered by police and taken to hospital. He suffered serious injuries and is unable to walk.
The legally registered Coca-Cola Employees Union (CCEU) was formed in March 2021. The union submitted its first collective bargaining agreement proposal on September 8, 2021.
Although 14 negotiation meetings were held between September 20, 2021 and May 25, 2022, management made no offers or counter-proposals. Management simply told the union to revise or withdraw their demands. When the union insisted on weekly negotiation meetings to make progress, management avoided any record of the discussion by refusing to sign the meeting minutes and walked out.
At the same time Coca-Cola Bangladesh is attempting to reduce working conditions and standards by seeking a temporary exemption from Bangladesh labour laws.
On February 26, 2022, Coca-Cola management filed for a six-month exemption from the Bangladesh Labour Act , declaring the bottling plant a “seasonal factory”. This is despite year-round production. The union refused to provide a written “no objection” as required by law, preventing the company from securing its exemption.
CCEU requested an explanation of why the company is seeking status as a “seasonal factory” and how this affects job security and working conditions. Management refused to provide an explanation and instead threatened to cut workers’ incentive pay if the union does not provide a written “no objection” letter to support the company’s exemption from the labour law.
On April 12, 2022, management wrote to the union stating that they are seeking exemption from implementing eight sections of of the Bangladesh Labour Act concerning working hours and leave. The union responded that these sections of the labour law are important for workers’ rights. Management tried to pressure the union president, but CCEU still refused to provide the “no objection” letter.
On May 26, 2022, when workers received their salary for the month of May their incentives were missing. It was stopped by management as punishment for the union refusing to agree to exemptions from the labour law. This constitutes financial coercion by the company to compel union members to accept exemptions from the labour law that are detrimental to workers’ rights and working conditions.
On June 4, the union started peaceful protest actions outside the Coca-Cola factory, demanding that management respect collective bargaining rights and respect the labour law. Management accused the union of “damaging the company’s image”, but refused to hold negotiations. Instead management filed a complaint with the labour department on June 6, accusing the union of “illegal activities”.
The protests continued and on June 7, the Coca-Cola contractor, Haji Shahid, carried out the abduction and beating of the union president. While the union president remains in hospital, union members are continuing their protest action.
In the face of growing international condemnation, Cambodian authorities have released eight of the 11 NagaWorld trade unionists from prison on bail. Eight union leaders of LRSU were arrested in January and another three union activists were arrested in February for exercising their internationally recognized right to strike. Eight women were released yesterday while three men remain in prison, with possible release tomorrow. Although released from prison, the charges against the union leaders – charges that effectively criminalize trade union activities – have not been dropped.
The eight union leaders in arrested in January sought release on bail in order to represent their 365 members still fighting for reinstatement and over 3,000 LRSU members denied the right to union representation. Thousands of workers and their families face severe economic hardship and debt due to the actions of NagaWorld and the Ministry of Labour.
To avoid negotiations with the released LRSU leaders to reinstate hundreds of union members, NagaWorld and the Ministry of Labour created a fake union organization on the eve of their release from prison.
The new organization, called Union for Rights and Common Interests of NagaWorld Employees, was registered in record time. What would usually take months was completed in a matter of hours. The fake organization was quickly established to act as a counterpart in “negotiations” with NagaWorld management. The next step is for the Ministry of Labour to grant the fake organization Most Representative Status (MRS), depriving LRSU members of their collective bargaining rights. It is also expected that NagaWorld management exploit the climate if fear inside the hotel casino megacomplex to forcibly deduct union dues for the fake organization from the wages of the majority of workers.
The actions by NagaWorld and the Ministry of Labour are a desperate attempt to show the world that the rights violations have ended and the dispute is over. Just in time for an international tripartite mission to Cambodia scheduled for the end of March. Yet the actions of NagaWorld and the Ministry of Labour in creating a fake union organization and continuing to persecute LRSU members once again violates ILO Conventions Nos 87 and 98 on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
LRSU has once again made it clear that it seeks good faith negotiations with NagaWorld to secure the reinstatement of unfairly terminated union members and for those opting to accept redundancy to receive their full legal entitlement to separation pay. At the same time the international community must make it clear that all charges against the arrested union leaders must be dropped and comprehensive legal reforms must protect trade union rights and prevent criminalization of trade union activities.
The international community must also make it clear that setting up a fake union organization and creating a climate of fear to silence workers fools no one.
At 2:50PM on Wednesday, February 9, three union leaders wrongfully detained on Saturday under COVID-19 laws were charged and sent to prison for pre-trial detention. Chaup Channath, Sao Sambath and Seng Vannarith were among several striking union members detained on February 5 by authorities under COVID-19 laws. However, because of their role as strike leaders they were charged and sent to prison on February 9, as the government desperately tries break the 53 day strike and cover up the human rights violations at NagaWorld that led to strike action.
The detention of Chaup Channath, Sao Sambath and Seng Vannarith adds to the eight LRSU leaders already imprisoned a month ago and awaiting sentencing: Chhim Sithar (Union President), Chhim Sokhorn (Union Secretary), Kleang Soben (Union Negotiation Committee), Sun Sreypich (Union Negotiation Committee), Hai Sopheap (Union Negotiation Committee), Ry Sovandy (Union Negotiation Committee),Touch Sereymeas (Union Activist), and Sok Narith (Union Advisor).
The actions of the Cambodian government violate several international human rights conventions including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and ILO Convention No.87 and Convention No. 98 on freedom of association and the right to organize and collective bargaining. This compounds the systematic violations of ILO Conventions No.87 and No.98 by NagaWorld management over the past year, when it imposed mass forced redundancies without negotiations with the union, LRSU, and selectively terminated the union leadership and active members. Ministry of Labour officials then colluded with NagaWorld management to prevent effective mediation by the Arbitration Council, forcing LRSU members to vote for strike action.
Instead of resolving this labour dispute during the one month cooling off period in November 2021, management refused negotiations and forced through the unfair termination of union leaders and members. Once strike action began on December 18, 2021, government authorities launched an attack on the union, raiding the LRSU office and arresting leaders and members.
In a further attack on the right to freedom of association, the right to strike and the right to freedom of assembly, new arrest warrants were issued for four women union leaders on February 6, 2022.
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