Global Advocacy and Violation of Labor Rights by Dr. Yunus and Grameen Telecom

On 22nd January 2024, 12 US Senators sent a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urging them to end ‘harassment’ against Dr. Yunus. The letter has become a national issue at this moment. Before this, there was an argument concerning


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Global Advocacy and Violation of Labor Rights by Dr. Yunus and Grameen Telecom


On 22nd January 2024, 12 US Senators sent a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urging them to end ‘harassment’ against Dr. Yunus. The letter has become a national issue at this moment. Before this, there was an argument concerning the veracity and falsity of labor rights in Bangladesh and elsewhere following the court ruling against Dr. Yunus for allegedly violating labor laws at Grameen Telecom on January 1, 2024. It has focused on the operations of the Grameen Telecom. The unfolding story of Grameen Telecom has become a modern-day surprise, shaping a critical chapter in Bangladesh's history and raising vital questions about the trajectory of freedom and accountability.

Against this backdrop, identifying the contradictions between global advocacy for Dr. Yunus and the reality of labor rights in Grameen Telecom could be beneficial for understanding the issue.

Grameen Telecom’s Malpractice

Dr. Yunus obtained a telecommunications license during the Awami League government in 1997 to establish Grameen Telecom, leading to the development of the prominent telecom brand, Grameenphone. Advocating for connectivity to uplift the lives of the poor, he initially positioned the venture as a service-oriented, non-profit organization. Despite its original non-profit status, Grameen Telecom underwent a significant transformation under Dr. Yunus's leadership, allegedly involving malpractice. Most of Grameenphone's shares were purportedly transferred to foreign entities, raising concerns about the impact on the nation's destiny.

However, a Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) inspection in 2020 discovered that Grameen Telecom is also engaging in malpractice by offering contract positions to its employees after they complete their probation period, which is a violation of Bangladeshi labor law.

Further observation regarding this malpractice suggests that such a contract position helps the profitable ‘non-profit ‘organization to evade profit sharing provides control over labor welfare and leaves the system as per existing labor law. Subsequently, a case was filed and Dr. Yunus along with six other top officials was found guilty and charged accordingly by the High Court on the first day of 2024.

Global Advocacy Overlooking the Labor Law Violation

On November 16, 2023, the United States unveiled a new labor rights policy through the Presidential Memorandum titled "Advancing Worker Empowerment, Rights, and High Labour Standards Globally." Led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the policy aims to strengthen both domestic and international workers' rights. Key features include the authority for the US administration to impose sanctions, trade penalties, and visa restrictions on entities violating labor rights. The policy emphasizes a whole-of-government approach, directing officials to engage actively in labor diplomacy.

It underscores the importance of worker empowerment for democracy, economic growth, supply chain resilience, and fairness for American workers and companies. Collaboration with interagency partners and the use of diplomatic, and foreign assistance, law enforcement, and global trade tools are highlighted to raise global labor standards. The policy emphasizes consistency with international obligations and adopts a comprehensive strategy involving multiple government agencies to promote worker empowerment, unions, and high labor standards. However, scrutiny of their situation and that of their friends seems overlooked in the policy's rhetoric. Dr. Yunus’s verdict is a landmark for Bangladesh’s labor law as never in history, has the court held a person of such magnitude responsible.

Again, various international bodies exist to address such issues, yet they too face challenges and criticism, sometimes undermining their effectiveness. International frameworks governing human rights form the cornerstone for establishing corporate obligations in respecting human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, enacted in 1948, serves as the primary foundation for human rights standards, complemented by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, collectively constituting the International Bill of Human Rights.

The International Labor Organization's (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, a product of the UN agency, outlines eight fundamental conventions, encompassing freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and the elimination of forced labor, child labor, and workplace discrimination. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, emerged as the globally recognized standard for averting and addressing human rights harm associated with business activities.

The UN Global Compact, the world's most extensively adopted corporate sustainability initiative, encompasses ten principles urging companies to align their strategies with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption. These principles encompass supporting and respecting internationally proclaimed human rights, avoiding complicity in human rights abuses, and addressing labor rights in line with the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

Advocacy of International Frameworks and the Grameen Telecom

The conspicuous absence of the implementation of these international frameworks within Grameen Telecom raises questions. It appears paradoxical that the self-proclaimed champions of human rights and labor rights, who articulate these laws, engage in public relations exercises, often driven by misinformation and taken out of context, yet falter in enforcing them within the sphere of their associates, such as the Grameen Telecom.

The senators' letter in this regard contradicts their advocacy for human rights. Perhaps they are pursued by Dr. Yunus' vast networks and are unaware of the ground realities. Furthermore, their letter to the Prime Minister urging her to intervene in the judicial process is disrespectful to an independent judiciary.

However, the very individuals who claim to carry the torch for human rights seem ineffective when it comes to applying these principles to their close allies. Despite their adeptness in drawing attention to global issues, they seem reluctant or incapable of ensuring adherence to the standards they advocate, especially when dealing with entities connected to them personally. This apparent double standard raises concerns about the sincerity and consistency of their commitment to the principles they espouse, leaving room for skepticism regarding the true extent of their dedication to upholding human and labor rights.

Lastly, the senators’ letter and other global advocacy for Dr. Yunus’s acquittal underscores a gap between advocacy and action, prompting a critical examination of the motives behind such selective implementation of international frameworks within the context of personal affiliations and connections.

*Professor Dr. Arun Kumar Goswami, Director, Centre for South Asian Studies(CSAS), Dhaka; Former Dean, Faculty of Social Science and Former Chairman, Department of Political Science, Jagannath University, Dhaka.

 

 

Written By: Professor Dr. Arun Kumar Goswami
Professor Dr. Arun Kumar Goswami, Ex-Chairman, Department of Political Science
Director, South Asian Study Circle,
Jagannath University
Dhaka, BANGLADESH

Copyright: Fresh Angle International (www.freshangleng.com)
ISSN 2354 - 4104


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