Group: Bangladesh workers threatened over union

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DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A human rights group said Thursday that garment factory owners in Bangladesh have been intimidating and threatening workers who try to organize trade unions.

The working conditions in Bangladesh garment factories are often harsh and unsafe. There have been a series of disasters highlighting the poor conditions, including a 2012 fire and a factory building collapse last April that killed more than 1,100 workers.

New York-based Human Rights Watch in a statement said that it had interviewed dozens of workers who said they were beaten, lost their jobs or forced to resign after trying to organize unions.

The ability to form trade unions has been very limited in the garment industry in the South Asian nation, but after the major disasters Bangladesh last year amended its labor law to widen the scope amid criticism at home and abroad.

The rights group said threats and intimidation by the owners and their management were making it difficult for the workers to sign up as law requires support of at least 30 percent workers of a factory to form trade union.

Officials of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association could not be immediately reached for comment.

The industry employs 4 million Bangladeshis, and Bangladesh earns more than $20 billion a year from exports of garment products, mainly to major retailers in the United States and Europe.

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