His tiny office was lost among the hulking garment factories that churn out cargo pants or polo shirts for brands like Gap or Tommy Hilfiger, yet workers managed to find Aminul Islam. They came with problems. Unpaid wages. Abusive bosses. Mr. Islam, a labor organizer, fought for their rights.
And then no one could find Mr. Islam.
He disappeared April 4. Days later, his family discovered that he had been tortured and killed. His murder bore a grim familiarity in a country with a brutal legacy of politically motivated killings, and it raised a troubling question: Was he killed for trying to organize workers?
Five months later, Mr. Islam’s killing remains under investigation. There have been no arrests in the case, and the police say they have made little progress.
On the day he disappeared, Mr. Islam was trying to resolve a labor impasse at factories that stitch shirts for Tommy Hilfiger, American Eagle and other global brands. Then an acquaintance arrived unexpectedly, accompanied by a woman in a veil. The man, now suspected of having ties to security agencies, had an urgent request, that Mr. Islam officiate at his wedding.
Mr. Islam rode off in a rickshaw to help him and was never seen again.
It is unclear if Mr. Islam was killed because of his work, and it is possible that he was killed for an altogether different motive. But his labor advocacy had collided with powerful interests in Bangladesh, now the second leading exporter of apparel in the world, after China. Cheap, nonunion labor is essential to the export formula in Bangladesh, where the minimum wage for garment workers is $37 a month. Unions are almost nonexistent in apparel factories.