A labor organizer from Bangladesh who spoke in Chicago earlier this year – and who faces charges carrying the death penalty for her efforts to improve garment workers’ conditions – will speak to Wal-Mart’s annual shareholders meeting today in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Kalpona Akter will speak on behalf of New York City pension funds, which have introduced a resolution calling on Wal-Mart to report annually on working conditions in their factories. Wal-Mart is opposing the resolution, according to the New York Times .
Following massive and turbulent demonstrations last year by Bengladeshi garment workers protesting a minimum wage hike (to $43 a month) which they consider inadequate, Akter and two colleagues from the Begladesh Center for Wroker Solidarity were charged with inciting violence.
They had conducted “courtyard meetings” on workers rights for employees of several factories. Supporters say they were not present during the incidents of vandalism which underlie the charges. During one incident, Akter was meeting with the chair of the Parliament’s labor committee, they say.
Two major factory groups which supply Wal-Mart and other U.S. corporations – including the Nassa Group, Wal-Mart’s single largest supplier — filed charges against the organizers. Other charges filed by the government include violation of the Explosives Substances Act, which carries a possible death penalty.
Sweat Free Communities , a project of the International Labor Rights Forum, has been demanding that the charges be dropped. Last year 18 members of Congress, including Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) called on  the CEOs of Wal-Mart and other corporations to suspend business with Nassa and the Envoy Group until charges are dropped. Amnesty Internation, Human Rights Watch, and the AFL-CIO have also expressed concern.
In March, Akter spoke in Chicago with a Wal-Mart associate from Maryland and a local warehouse worker. As Newstips  reported, the American workers said they were shocked to learn of conditions in Bangladesh.
Akter began working in garment factories at the age of 12, earning $10 a month, and working shifts of 14 hours or more.