In an unusually scathing account of VEON’s activities in Bangladesh, the Dutch National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines concluded that the Amsterdam-based telecoms company and its Bangladeshi subsidiary Banglalink are not following the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in the South Asian country—two years after the NCP called for reform.
The evaluation statement, released in late March, is part of the Dutch government’s compliance review of recommendations the NCP issued in 11 February 2020. It notes that VEON’s actions in Bangladesh “still don’t seem to recognize the fundamental right of workers to have trade unions and representative organizations.”
“It was clear in 2020 that VEON is violating the OECD Guidelines, and unfortunately, it is just as clear today. The Dutch NCP has put a tremendous amount of research and time into this case, and now it is time for VEON to correct its broken labour practices,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “Banglalink workers have had their fundamental human rights denied for six years. VEON must stop stalling and recognize workers’ right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.”
The Dutch NCP’s 2020 findings were in response to a 2016 specific instance filed by UNI Global Union. It alleged that VEON and its subsidiary harassed workers to suppress organizing with the Banglalink Employees Union (BLEU).
BLEU continued to organize in this hostile environment. The union informed Banglalink in early February 2020 that it received a certificate of registration from the Department of Labour’s General Director, allowing the union to formally represent workers and collectively bargain. Banglalink immediately took legal action to the High Court of Bangladesh, resulting in the union certificate being withdrawn on 26 February 2020, just two weeks after the NCP’s recommendations were issued. The union has appealed the High Court decision in July 2020, but its case has yet to be heard nearly two years later.
Reviewing the situation since its recommendations, the Dutch NCP states that VEON still does not “seem to recognize the fundamental right of workers to have trade unions and representative organizations for the purpose of collective bargaining and that enterprises should engage in constructive negotiations with such representatives with a view on reaching agreements on terms and conditions of employment.”
The evaluation continues: “It seems that VEON misunderstands the relevance of fundamental international labour standards, which have to be honoured beyond the applicability of national law and regulation. The NCP, on the basis of the information provided during the evaluation, finds that VEON has not adequately addressed any of the NCP recommendations.”
The NCP also urged the company to update its policies to ensure that VEON’s policies “make reference to the core labour rights of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining as enabling rights.”
The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are principles and standards for responsible global business conduct. OECD National Contact Points are government-supported offices established to promote the OECD Guidelines and handle cases as a non-judicial a grievance mechanism.
VEON is an Amsterdam-based multinational telecom company with 235 million customers and operations in 12 countries. Veon is controlled by investment company LetterOne, which in turn is controlled by two Russian investors with close ties to the Russian government, Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven. Both Fridman and Aven have been placed on EU and UK sanctions lists following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for their relations with the Russian government, and Fridman has since stepped down from the VEON board. LetterOne owns 47.9% of VEON, and its shares are listed on the NASDAQ and Euronext (Amsterdam).