Bangladesh is one of the largest suppliers of apparel to the United States, Canada, and the European Union, and its apparel industry is one of the most important in the country. However, there are many challenges for Bangladesh’s manufacturing sector and the country’s competitive advantage, and these challenges have become some of the most critical issues for our industry today.
As we’ve seen in recent months, fire and building safety is one of the most critical challenges that needs to be addressed in Bangladesh. The fire at Tazreen Fashions in November 2012 and the collapse of Rana Plaza in April 2013 have led to the global industry prioritizing this issue.
Additionally, there have been ongoing labor problems in Bangladesh. In April 2012, a prominent Bangladeshi labor activist and former textile worker, Aminul Islam, was found murdered outside Dhaka, and it was believed that his murder was part of a deliberate campaign to suppress labor efforts in the nation.
The United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), formerly the United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel (USA-ITA), supports the ready-made garments sector in Bangladesh, and many member companies source there or would like to source there because of the quality, cost-competitive garments available there.
However, USFIA strongly urges the Bangladesh industry and government will support good labor practices, including building inspections, fire safety training, and support of labor groups in the country. It is critical that all stakeholders work together on this issue.
In addition, USFIA encourages companies to take action, too. Some of our member companies were among the first companies to sign the Accord on Fire & Building Safety led by IndustriALL Global Union, while others were founding members of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, consisting of North American brands and retailers. All USFIA member companies sourcing in Bangladesh have programs and standards in place to ensure worker safety, and continue to update those programs. We support any and all efforts by our members to improve worker safety in Bangladesh, whether signing the Accord, joining the Alliance, working internally, or perhaps some combination. Our full statement, posted on May 20, 2013, is available here.
USFIA has long been active on labor issues in Bangladesh. On April 18, 2012, USA-ITA (now USFIA) joined a number of global apparel and retail associations in sending a letter to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed of Bangladesh requesting an investigation into the death of Aminul Islam. The signers note that they are “deeply concerned about this incident because the apparent circumstances leading up to and surrounding Mr. Islam’s death could be perceived to be part of a deliberate campaign to repress efforts to raise and address issues related to unsatisfactory working conditions in the RMG sector.” The letter signers include U.S., Canadian and European apparel, retail, licensing, and footwear industries, and Bangladesh is one of the largest suppliers of apparel to the U.S., Canada, and EU.
On June 5, 2012, USA-ITA (now USFIA) and Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), an Associate Member, hosted a webinar titled, “View from the Ground: Challenges & Solutions for Sourcing & Compliance in Bangladesh.” This webinar provided important information for over 100 U.S. brands and retailers and Bangladeshi manufacturers on how to be compliant and support good labor practices.
In 2013, following the Tazreen and Rana Plaza tragedies, USA-ITA (now USFIA) joined with North American brands, retailers, and trade associations to develop a sustainable plan for addressing the ongoing challenges, particularly with fire and building safety, in Bangladesh. This led to the launch on July 10, 2013, of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and corresponding Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative, a binding, five-year initiative that sets aggressive timelines and accountability for inspections, training, and worker empowerment. More information can be found at the Alliance website, www.bangladeshworkersafety.org.