A labour court in Dhaka this week issued a warrant of arrest against the Nobel Prize-winning Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus after he failed to appear at a hearing over the sacking of three workers at Grameen Communications, which is the IT wing of Grameen Bank, the organisation Yunus founded in 1983.
The three employees of the company had filed a criminal complaint against the management for sacking them in June after they were accused of forming a trade union in the workplace.
Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with the Grameen Bank in 2006 for their contribution “to create economic and social development from below”.
What does Yunus’s Grameen Bank do?
Yunus founded the Grameen Bank on the principles of “trust and solidarity” to provide micro-credit without collateral to the “poorest of the poor” in rural Bangladesh. According to its website, the bank provides services in over 80,000 villages and has about 2,500 branches. It has been seen as a remarkable success story, empowering the poor with much-needed credit, while maintaining very high recovery rates that keep the model sustainable.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee recognised the efforts of Yunus and Grameen Bank “to create economic and social development from below”. The citation noted that “lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.”
In an interview to The Indian Express in 2018, Yunus said, “The financial system should be built the other way: if you have nothing you get the highest priority. The question is, is it the state’s responsibility to make someone who has money make more money, or to make someone who has no money make money?”
How did the Laureate end up in controversy?
This is not the first time that Yunus has been embroiled in controversy, in fact. In 2015 he was summoned by Bangladesh’s revenue authorities over non-payment of taxes to the tune of $1.51 million.
Yunus and the Grameen Bank have faced a series of investigations and accusations under the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which came to power in 2009. The problems began around 2007 when Yunus forayed into politics briefly.
In an open letter that was published in the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star, Yunus asked for people’s views on floating a political party. “He observed that the current political climate seeks to destroy the potential of the country and so without a comprehensive change there, it would never be possible to take the nation ‘to the height it deserves’,” The Daily Star reported.
He further observed it was time for the country to get rid of its past frustrations and give rise to a political structure in the country that Bangladeshis dreamt of.
In 2010, a Danish documentary made allegations against Yunus and the Grameen Bank of diverting funds worth about $100 million given to the bank by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). The allegations were subsequently disproved.
In January 2011, the Grameen Bank came under scrutiny when the government ordered a probe on allegations that the donations to the bank were not being used for the intended purposes. In response, a group called “Friends of Grameen” was formed to protect Yunus from “politically orchestrated attacks.”
In March 2011, Yunus was asked to step down as head of the bank in violation of the country’s retirement laws, according to which the retirement age is 60. Yunus was 70 at the time. His review petitions were rejected by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in May 2011.