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    06.06.17 Professor Chaumtoli Huq’s Documentary Examines Bangladeshi Workers’ Rights
    Chaumtoli Huq

    The horrifying collapse of a factory in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 workers in 2013 shined a harsh light on lack of protections and rights for workers in the garment industry and brought about renewed calls for labor law reforms.  Adjunct Professor Chaumtoli Huq’s new documentary, “Sramik Awaaz: Workers Voices,” covers the evolution of the labor movement in Bangladesh from the perspective of the workers themselves.

    The film had its first screening at SUNY Empire State College on March 8—International Women’s Day. On April 24—the anniversary of the collapse—the documentary was screened in major cities around the world, including New York City, London, and Melbourne, Australia. In June, Huq will return to Bangladesh to share the documentary with its subjects for the first time.

    The film is based on research Huq conducted in 2014 and 2015 through a fellowship with the American Institute for Bangladesh Studies. Her initial plan was to write and propose labor policy, but as she conducted interviews she began taking videos of her interview subjects.

    “At the end of each of the interviews I did with the workers, I would ask what I could do in return. As scholars/researchers, we go and we take information, publish for our career advancement, but we don’t really give back to the communities we’re studying. One organizer said that since I was taking all of this video, I should make a documentary they could use,” Huq said. “So, I embarked on this documentary project, teaming up with a local filmmaker (Mohammed Romel). It tries to answer the question of what workers are saying about international human rights and labor, instead of asking policy experts.” For Huq, those who are directly impacted are most qualified to comment on policy and law.

    The film documents what the workers believe must happen to bring about labor reform and whether post-collapse international agreements signed by apparel companies, such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, are achieving their goals.

    Huq hopes to build an organizing fund to assist Bangladeshi garment workers—most of whom are women—who are fired for attempting to unionize.

    “Women are the breadwinners of the household there, and if they lose their job while trying to organize, it’s not just the individual woman who’s affected, it’s her family,” Huq said.

    Huq, who teaches Brooklyn Law School’s Externship Seminar, also founded  Law@theMargins, which uses law and media to highlight issues of social justice. She plans to explore the connection between business and social justice more with students at the Law School.

    “One of the things I learned from my 20 years of legal practice is that using media and organizing and litigation is effective, but it’s not enough just to bring lawsuits,” Huq said. “You also have to be strategic about using media to uplift some of these issues, and you have to connect on the ground with community-based organizations. This documentary is a reflection of that philosophy.”

    Click here to see a five-minute excerpt of “Sramik Awaaz: Workers Voices.”