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
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Scraping together a handsome bottom line
Manufacturing rebound seen
Detroit retirees vote in favour of pension cuts
Imax, Shanghai Film to open 19 screens in China
Maine city vote effectively bans tar sands oil
China, Venezuela deepen economic ties during visit
Choice Properties reports $1.5M Q2 net loss
Tallest Poppy blooms again
B.C. ordered to pay mining company 335,000
Judge: FDA can't use tobacco panel menthol report
Widow: Jury sent tobacco company a $23B message
Securities commission goes after blogger
PrairieSky posts $23.9-million profit
Bureau Ok's sale of Loblaw, Shoppers outlets
Agreements signed for Nova Scotia LNG plant
Yahoo buying app and analytics company Flurry
Most actively traded companies on the TSX
Wave of media mergers may be in wings
Netflix tops 50M subscribers as 2Q earnings soar
Brookfield Canada Office Q2 profit rises
5 things Atlantic City is doing to reverse slide
A history of casino revenue, jobs in Atlantic City
CN earns $847 million in Q2 on higher revenue
Six Flags and Hasbro are big market movers
Ackman says he can prove Herbalife is a 'fraud'
New Orleans putting smoked butts in a better place
Entrepreneurs can be key to youth jobs
US Treasury bill rates mixed at weekly auction
Mississippi's Margaritaville casino closing
GO Transit not affected by pay hikes: Matthews
US says airlines add jobs for 6th straight month
German supermarket tycoon Albrecht dead at 94
BlackBerry appoints new chief operating officer
Oil prices above US$104; natural gas sinks
Valeant takes action on Allergan claims
Former Sino-Forest CFO settles with OSC
WestJet offers new direct flights to Florida