- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A labor rights investigator was arrested by the Bangladeshi government, prompting U.S. companies to lobby for his release.

Mehedi Hasan, an employee of the Washington-based Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), was arrested Thursday, according to the organization. The WRC said yesterday that he was arrested in retaliation for his efforts to protect the rights of workers in factories that sell U.S. brands.

Gap Inc. spokeswoman Melissa Swanson said the company is “looking into this situation, working with appropriate authorities and local organizations, and we are hopeful for a prompt and just resolution,” she said.

Kazi Shamsul Alam, commerce counselor at the Bangladeshi Embassy, said yesterday that he received calls from the WRC, Nike and Gap expressing concern, but did not know the charges on which Mr. Hasan was being held.

“I have requested information from the Ministry of Home Affairs about the charges, and if there are no charges he should be released,” Mr. Alam said.

Mr. Alam added that Mr. Hasam could have been arrested for activities other than his WRC work, but he thought “the situation will be taken care of, but everything depends on the charges.”

The Associated Press reported yesterday from the capital, Dhaka, that a police official said Mr. Hasan was arrested for purportedly instigating protests by textile workers in violation of emergency rules.

WRC Executive Director Scott Nova said, “There have been thousands of political arrests [in Bangladesh] and numerous reports of physical mistreatment of prisoners. We just hope that the attention the arrest has got will provide Mr. Hasan with a level of protection.”

Mr. Hasan’s role was to scrutinize factories and their treatment of workers in Dhaka, ensuring that clothing was not produced under sweatshop conditions. WRC monitors conditions for 178 universities and colleges that lend their brands to Nike and Gap.

The WRC said yesterday that another employee was detained at the airport and subjected to “aggressive interrogation” earlier this month, during which his interrogators made clear that both he and Mr. Hasan were under surveillance by the security forces.

“It is increasingly important to global corporations that they be able to ensure that the countries in which they do business show at least a minimal respect for the rights of workers,” Mr. Nova said.

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