At last, after a long halt, the garment factories in Bangladesh have resumed operations from Sunday (26 April)!
Earlier, there was a meeting between the stakeholders in which the Government officials and industry leaders discussed the issue of resumption at the Prime Minister’s Office. Amongst the Government officials present in the meeting were Finance Secretary Abdur Rouf Talukder, Labour Secretary KM Ali Azam, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office Ahmad Kaikaus and Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam. From the industry, the current President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Dr. Rubana Huq, President of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) KM Salim Osman, Vice-President Mohammad Hatem, former Presidents of BGMEA – Anwar-ul-Alam Chowdhury Parvez, Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, Abdus Salam Murshedy and President of Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) Mohammad Ali Khokon took part in the meeting. Subsequently, a task force formed recently was given the responsibility to prepare a guideline on when and how to reopen the factories.
The Government formed the task force, headed by Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, former President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), to ensure a proper disbursement of the stimulus fund and to set reopening dates for the industry. And in line with the decision of the task force, on Sunday, a certain number of garment manufacturing units affiliated to the BGMEA and BKMEA have resumed operations but on a limited scale.
According to the concerned officials, a total of 502 BGMEA factories have resumed operations on Sunday, including 92 in Chittagong, 25 in Dhaka metropolitan area, 238 in Gazipur, 18 in Narayanganj and 129 in Ashulia and Savar. Factories have now been allowed to operate with only 30 per cent workforce, the quantum of which could be allowed to go up to 50 per cent gradually, depending on how things shape up.
“In the first phase, you (factory owners) are advised to ask only the workers who are living near your factories to join. Until further directives are issued, you are kindly requested not to ask workers currently in their villages to return to Dhaka,” maintained the apex garment makers’ body, the BGMEA, to its member factories, adding, “If under any circumstances, workers residing outside return to Dhaka in an unsupported and irregular way, then the BGMEA will not be able to help you as an association in this regard.”
Considering that there have been large-scale order cancellations by the Western buyers, Apparel Resources spoke to some manufacturers to find out what necessitated the work resumption and if orders have started trickling in again.
Pakiza Knit Composite Limited has already received enquiries from some buyers. A few buyers from Japan and Korea are reportedly in talks with Pakiza for placing orders. Further, a Korean buyer, whom Pakiza has been working with earlier, has reportedly put an order of maximum 350,000 pieces of basic T-shirts.
“No delivery date has been given by the buyer, as they understand that Bangladesh is in lockdown now.” – Rakibul Islam Khan, Director, Pakiza Knit
Vanguard Dresses (BSA Apparels Limited), which works majorly with US customers/importers including names like Walmart and Carter’s, has been reportedly told by its buyers that there will be new order placements but with reduced quantities. They have, thus, kept their sampling room open, though in limited capacity.
Speaking to Apparel Resources, former President of BKMEA and Managing Director of Plummy Fashions Limited Fazlul Hoque also accepted that many factories are in various stages of discussion with buyers on new order placements.
These developments have come as a big respite to the industry, which has been grappling with order cancellations amidst the countrywide lockdown which forced them to wind up operations. Considered the backbone to Bangladesh’s economy, many experts felt there is no option but to resume operations sooner or later. However, health experts are for a calculated and cautious approach towards work resumption.
A case in point is Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), who has advised garment factories to reopen gradually after ensuring health and safety of workers because a long-term shutdown will hurt the economy.
The CPD is an independent think-tank with local roots and global outreach, which focuses on frontier issues that are critical to the development process of Bangladesh, South Asia and LDCs in the present context, and those that are expected to shape and influence country’s development prospects from the medium-term perspective.
CPD’s current programme portfolio includes research activities, holding of dialogues, publication and dissemination, and networking-related initiatives. CPD strives to enhance national capacity for economy-wide policy analyses, foster regional cooperation, and addresses issues which relate to Bangladesh’s effective integration into the process of regionalisation and globalisation.
Mustafizur came up with this observation while speaking at a virtual discussion, titled ‘7th Anniversary of Rana Plaza Tragedy: Crisis of Workers and Employers during the Coronavirus Pandemic – Government Initiatives and Way Forward’, held recently.
Experts also feel that most of the garment factories, which have kept their operations shut after the Government enforced a countrywide lockdown from 26 March to curb the spread of coronavirus infection, may force the garment manufacturing industry of the country to lose its competitiveness in international markets due to a lengthy production suspension, as countries such as China and Vietnam have resumed their manufacturing lines.
However, some labour unions and rights’ groups are against the resumption of work. “Nothing is happening anywhere right now. Airlines are shut while ships are not sailing and no shipment or order is taking place. It is beyond my comprehension why they (factory owners) are planning this (work resumption) now,” stated Mahbubur Rahman Ismail, a coordinator of Garments Sramik Odhikar Andolan (an alliance of the 11 workers’ organisations), expressing his deep resentment to the resumption move.
Supporting Mahbubur, another labour leader and President of the Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation Babul Akhter maintained that if the industry still decides to go ahead and resumes operations, owners would have to take the responsibility in case of any eventuality.
Meanwhile, the BGMEA in its communication to the member factories, underlined, “To keep the economy running, and considering the overall situation, the BGMEA will advise you on opening of factories.”
“To keep the economy running, and considering the overall situation, the BGMEA will advise you on opening of factories. Until this direction is received, you are kindly requested not to ask workers (who are in their villages) to return to Dhaka.” – BGMEA