The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association or BGMEA is not just any trade association, it is the apex garment makers’ body in the country, which has been playing a pivotal role in the growth and development of the garment industry in Bangladesh.
In the last few years especially, the BGMEA has evolved to sort of become the guardian angel of the industry, looking after and safeguarding its interest, dignity and well-being not just in Bangladesh but even in the global arena.
To start with, when the industry was faced with large-scale order cancellations from global buyers last year amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, it was the BGMEA which took up the case of the industry with the concerned stakeholders in the right earnest, which helped restore a major chunk of the cancelled orders.
If one would remember, it was not just orders, the garment makers’ body even intervened to make sure suppliers are being paid by the buyers and where things did not apparently seem to fall in place, it did not flinch to take a hard stance even.
Take for example the case with the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, pertaining to which the BGMEA even threatened to blacklist the British clothing retailer for not paying suppliers and not responding to the call of the association even as it sent a letter to British billionaire Philip Day, then owner of England’s Carlisle-based retailer EWM, in this regard.
“We are blacklisting non-responsive buyers who are not only not paying but also not responding to suppliers,” stated the then President of BGMEA Dr. Rubana Huq, adding, “We are never going to go for a confrontational relationship with anyone. And we have always been strategic. But with our businesses hanging by a thread, we need to step up and also rate and rank buyers. There is a lot of discussion on sustainability, but sourcing practices are often not syncing with sustainability concerns. For example, many buyers haven’t paid us but we have had their offices chasing us about salary and bonuses and whether those have been paid. This is not fair. So, we have to step up and take a stand and ensure that our terms of engagement with our buyers change for the better and that we end up in a more sustainable relationship with them. Bangladesh’s RMG sector is huge and we need to proceed with caution and protect our businesses and our workers.”
In her letter, the then BGMEA President said it was found that some buyers, including EWM, have been taking undue advantage of the Covid-19 situation and demanding unreasonable discounts despite having concluded contracts before the outbreak and amidst continued business activity.
Such undue advantages are not only impossible for BGMEA members to grant, but are also violations of local laws and internationally acceptable standards, and moreover defy all principles of ethical sourcing and governance that international brands and organisations expect of the industry and all its stakeholders, the letter, copies of which were sent to the Bangladesh High Commission in London, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA), Ministry of Commerce, Bangladesh Bank and Bangladesh Investment Development Authority, where EWM/Peacock and/or its affiliates are registered as a liaison office, the British High Commission in Dhaka, and other concerned ministries or departments, underlined.
Very recently, the BGMEA under the able leadership of its new President Faruque Hassan, took umbrage to what the trade body termed ‘derogatory’ remarks on Bangladesh RMG sector, in a Netflix movie, an act which is aimed at maintaining the dignity and image of the industry before the global audience.
In this regard, Faruque wrote to US Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl R. Miller drawing his attention to a movie recently released on Netflix that contains ‘derogatory comments’ about ‘Made in Bangladesh’.
“We also request your steps to stop streaming the movie, The Last Mercenary on Netflix until the dialogue or the scene is removed from the movie,” mentioned Hassan in his letter even as he underlined that as Netflix is a US company and run from the USA; BGMEA, on behalf of all apparel manufacturers and workers of Bangladesh, request the Ambassador to convey their vehement protest to Netflix for releasing the movie without censoring the ‘derogatory’ remarks about ‘Made in Bangladesh’.
The significant progress Bangladesh RMG industry has made over last few years in the areas of workplace safety, improved workers’ health, sustainable manufacturing and green revolution also largely owes to the support of the Embassy of the US in Dhaka, he mentioned, while adding that Bangladesh RMG industry has achieved so much progress that Bangladesh has been ranked second in ‘Ethical Manufacturing’, only after Taiwan, in a survey recently conducted by Hong Kong based supply chain compliance solutions provider QIMA.
“At a moment when Bangladesh’s RMG industry after addressing the safety concerns is leading green garment manufacturing in the world by examples; derogatory comments about ‘Made in Bangladesh’ in a newly released French movie directed by David Charon has appalled us and shocked us all,” Faruque reportedly stated.
The comments that created the controversy is: “Yes, Bulletproof Tuxedo, Made in France. I’d be dead if it were Bangladesh”.
These comments are tantamount to belittling the hard work, dedication, quality and on-time manufacturing commitment of the 4 million garment workers of Bangladesh who are delivering ‘Made in Bangladesh’ apparel to about 160 countries of the world, including the US, said the BGMEA chief, adding, “We think these disrespectful remarks not only undermine the joint efforts made by Bangladesh RMG industry along with their development partners like the US which ensured progress and development that are being recognised internationally and receiving worldwide appreciations; but also dishonour the emotion of thousands of US consumers whose wardrobes are full with ‘Made in Bangladesh’ attires and many of which are their favourites,” he said.
The apparel manufacturers and workers of Bangladesh put all their dedications and commitments to supply apparel to the top global as well as US brands; and they take lot of pride in what they make, said the BGMEA chair further while adding, “This hard work and pride should be respected by all.”
He said the remarks have been also irrelevantly and irrationally juxtaposed in the movie as Bangladesh does not produce any ‘bullet-proof apparel’.
“So, since its release on Netflix on 30 July, 2021, the movie The Last Mercenary has been hurting every lover and maker of the ‘Made in Bangladesh’,” said the BGMEA chief, who also wrote a separate letter to Netflix CEO Theodore Anthony Sarandos Jr. with the same request while demanding that the dialogue from the scene of the movie that degrade garments ‘Made in Bangladesh’, be expunged.
“We are also requesting you being a responsible and reputable company to stop streaming ‘The Last Mercenary’ on Netflix until the dialogue or the scene is removed from the movie,” the letter reads.
This incident is not all! Earlier too under the leadership of Faruque Hassan, the BGMEA expressed its disappointment over The Guardian’s report on safety concern in RMG factories
The BGMEA President Faruque Hassan said in a letter sent to The Guardian that the apparel association is ‘extremely disappointed’ to see that global trade unions and their affiliated parties have been spreading misinformation and maligning the role of BGMEA in the tripartite organisation of RMG Sustainability Council (RSC).
“The RSC, which was set up to carry forward the achievements made by the Accord on workplace safety in Bangladesh, is governed by an equal number of representatives from brands, manufacturers and trade unions,” the letter read even as it has been underlined that all policies and procedures developed by the Accord have been carried over to the RSC, while the trade body even added that the RSC is a consensus-based decision-making body without any majority voting.
“The RSC is fully committed to a high level of transparency to allow all relevant stakeholders to monitor remediation at a factory-by-factory level. There has not been a single proven case of any manipulation by the BGMEA of the RSC process,” the letter added even as Faruque further said that various parties are continuing to spread rumours and international media are publishing those without even taking a comment from the industry or brands.
“The BGMEA has the greatest respect for the global trade unions and their affiliates. At the same time, we, from the industry side, strongly stand by the principles on which the RSC was founded. It is a national initiative with global standards. It is not going to be commanded by any external authority,” reads Faruque’s letter even as the BGMEA also said that it should be crystal clear to all parties that they are committed to a safe and secure industry for workers, for the owners and for the brands who are sourcing from Bangladesh.
“However, we will not be the subject to harassment and bullying by the external forces,” the garment makers’ body said while also underlining the various steps taken by BGMEA to ensure safety and other measures taken for the benefits of the workers.
“We are vigorously promoting social dialogue in our factories, in addition to mandatory formation of Workers Participation Committee and Safety Committees. Many more initiatives are under consideration to make our manufacturing process transparent, accountable and responsible,” it mentioned, adding, “Bangladesh has significantly moved towards sustainable and green manufacturing having 138 LEED green factories, 39 of those are Platinum, certified by the United States Green Building Council. 13 among top 20 ranking LEED certified factories around the world are located in Bangladesh, and 500 more factories have registered for certification.”
The BGMEA said any irresponsible propaganda against the RMG industries would ultimately harm the workers most.
Going by the proactive role played by the BGMEA in all these cases, it would not perhaps be wrong to maintain that there could not have been any better organisation than the BGMEA to safeguard the interest of the industry while also maintain its dignity in the global arena so as to write a new chapter in the growth and development of this sector.