DIEGO GARCIA WRITES– Bangladesh, a small country with a GDP of 250 billion (2017), is rapidly industrializing— giving stiff competition to two Asian giants: China and India.
Even though most of our apparel is made in China, Bangladesh does not fall far behind; in 2017 it was the world’s second-largest clothing supplier, with 6.5 percent of the market, outpacing neighboring India. This is significant! Just think about it: the gigantic Republic of China and India compared to tiny Bangladesh.
In addition, several companies are now outsourcing to Bangladesh rather than South Korea and Taiwan—again, for cheaper manufacturing and low-cost labor. This has a significant shift in the Bangladesh job market, with workers shifting from agriculture to textiles. Many are moving into cities such as Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, where they are employed in large factories.
Bangladesh has industrialized quickly, but at what cost? There is little labor protection. Workers suffer harsh labor conditions and factory accidents. In 2013, a factory collapsed, killing nearly a thousand workers.
After this tragedy, Bangladesh established The Accord on Fire and Building Safety. This is a legally binding agreement between trade unions and clothing brands working to provide safe working environments, but it is not enough. The accord focuses exclusively on physical infrastructure—not workers’ health, long working hours, exhaustion, intense work rhythms, harassment, and the lack of advocacy for worker interests. It is factory bosses the ones that are not protecting their workers’ rights; their ultimate goal is to maximize profits neglecting the needs of the workers. Such social issues, as well as building codes, must be improved. Case studies show that young garment workers in the textile industry are particularly vulnerable— subject to harassment from coworkers, employers and even those who are meant to protect them — the police. And during peak season, from October to January, they must work extensive overtime hours— up to 12 a day— paid, at best, the minimum wage.
Is industrializing Bangladesh worth the cost? We must remember, there are significant trade-offs. While we celebrate the big-picture accomplishments of this little country, let’s not leave behind those hard workers whose rights are being crushed in the build-up.