Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 05/13/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
NEW YORK -- Bangladesh offers the global garment industry something unique: Millions of workers who quickly churn out huge amounts of well-made underwear, jeans and T-shirts for the lowest wages in the world.
But since a building collapse April 24 killed at least 1,100 garment workers in Bangladesh in one of the deadliest industrial tragedies in history, the country has gone from one of the industry's greatest assets to one of its biggest liabilities.
"The risk factors have jumped off the charts," said Julie Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, a trade group that represents retailers who import garments. "This is worse than what anyone had imagined."
Working conditions in Bangladesh's garment industry long have been known to be grim, a result of government corruption, desperation for jobs and industry indifference. But the scale of this tragedy has raised alarm among executives and customers.
The Facebook pages of Joe Fresh, Mango and Benetton, a few of the brands whose clothing or production documents were found in the rubble of the collapsed building, are peppered with angry comments from shoppers. Some warn they're going to shop elsewhere now.
Retailers are also facing street protests. In the U.S., university chapters of United Students Against Sweatshops are helping to stage demonstrations against Gap in more than a dozen cities, including Seattle, Los Angeles and New York. The group plans to target other retailers it believes are not committed to stricter standards for Bangladeshi factories.
The rising death toll may force western brands to make a choice: Stay and work to improve conditions, or leave and face higher costs, similar or worse worker conditions in other low-wage countries and criticism for abandoning a poor nation where per-capita income is just $1,940 a year.
Most retailers have vowed to stay and promised to work for change. Walmart and the Swedish retailer H&M, the top two producers of clothing in Bangladesh, have said they have no plans to leave. Other big chains such as The Children's Place, Mango, J.C. Penney, Gap, Benetton and Sears have said the same.
But for some, the risk of being in Bangladesh has become too great. The Walt Disney Co. announced this month it is stopping production of its branded goods in Bangladesh.
It's not easy for retailers who make their clothes in Bangladesh to simply leave. There is no shortage of cheap labour or garment factories around the world, but it takes months or even years to establish relationships with new factories that retailers can trust to turn out large volumes of garments to their specifications on time.
Even if retailers move their business to other low-cost countries, they still face threats to their reputations.
Of the major garment-manufacturing countries, Bangladesh's working conditions pose the highest risk to brands, according to Maplecroft, a risk-analysis firm based in Bath, England. But Bangladesh ranks somewhat better than many low-cost countries on other labour issues, such as child labour and forced labour.
Another reason it's hard for retailers to leave is that Bangladesh is one of the few places in the world that has enough workers, manufacturing capacity and experience to provide high volume, low prices, good quality and predictable service.
The garment industry in Bangladesh is the third-biggest exporter of clothes in the world, after China and Italy. There are 5,000 factories in the country and 3.6 million garment workers. Manufacturers have easy access to cheap raw materials, and the country's political situation has been relatively stable.
And its garment workers command the lowest wages in the world. The average worker in Bangladesh earns the equivalent of 24 cents an hour, compared with 45 cents in Cambodia, 52 cents in Pakistan, 53 cents in Vietnam and $1.26 in China, according to the Worker Rights Consortium, a worker advocacy group.
On Sunday a Bangladesh cabinet minister said the government plans to raise the minimum wage for garment workers.
-- The Associated Press
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 13, 2013 B7
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Sobeys shuts warehouse
Most actively traded companies on the TSX
Fresh rumours suggest StandardAero sale looms
Uber says database containing driver info was breached
Booze giant developing 'smart' labels for liquor
Bill O'Reilly's partisan critics stepping up attack
Cities' pipeline questions not unanswered:cities
How the Dow Jones industrial average fared on Friday
Google's Blogger drops plan to block nude pics amid uproar
J.C. Penney and Gap are big market movers
FDIC closes Puerto Rico's Doral Bank; Banco Popular steps in
Racing might return to New England's last thoroughbred track
Gas prices soar in California as supply shrinks
Stocks slip after weaker growth, end best month since 2011
Grain higher, livestock higher
US, Liberia start 1st formal test of ZMapp Ebola virus drug
Southwest nearly done inspecting planes that were grounded
Jury: Billionaire looted mining firm; trial eyed huge home
Fashion publishing legend John B. Fairchild dead at 87
Convicted Quebec fraudster back in court
Recalls this week: hand trucks, ceiling fans
US rig count decreases 43 to 1,267
Some California farmers to go without federal water
Former AIG CEO Robert Benmosche dies of cancer at 70
Man with heart issues revived near Newark Liberty bag claim
Tribes from around US gather to discuss legal marijuana
Greek prime minister rules out third bailout
OMERS earns 10 per cent return in 2014
Initial public offerings scheduled to debut next week
Artis sees bump in revenues for 2014
Obama pitches privacy bill, Democrats say it falls short
Competitors hungry for Seminole blackjack deal to expire
Bombardier's C3000 takes first flight
Business events scheduled for the coming month
As tastes change, big food makers try hipster guises
Ottawa posts $2.4B surplus for December
Grain lower, livestock mostly higher
OSC bans Black from director, officer roles
Obama to host European Council president next month
US consumer sentiment slips in February on icy weather