Sadie Keljikian, Top Billion Finance
Recent ethical difficulties in the Bangladesh garment manufacturing sector are discouraging global brands.
Bangladeshi garment manufacturers have been eagerly anticipating the second annual Dhaka Apparel Summit this Saturday. The event will be hosted by the
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and was set to host representatives from numerous domestic and global brands. Bangladesh has been rapidly growing as a sourcing hub for several years and currently represents nearly 6% of the $450 billion global garment trade.
The summit was planned to demonstrate continuing growth in the Bangladeshi manufacturing sector, which has been a topic of heated debate since the infamous collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013. Unfortunately, difficulties in the sector continue to mount. Since December, garment factory workers in Bangladesh have been striking and demonstrating in Ashulia to demand a raise in the minimum wage, which currently stands at approximately $67 USD per month.
Response to the strikes is adding to the controversy, with reports of police and government officials harassing and suppressing unionized workers. Based on these reports, it seems that the efforts of the Bangladeshi government are in service of stifling manufacturing workers, rather than negotiating the union’s demands. As a result, numerous big-box retailers have backed out of the summit, fearing scrutiny from their customers. Companies that have chosen to skip the summit include H&M, Gap, Inditex (parent company of Zara), Tchibo, Next, C&A and VF Corporation.
The Ethical Trading Initiative is also boycotting the event. ETI’s Peter McAllister gave a statement, saying “ETI recognizes the importance of the Apparel Summit to the future of the ready-made garment sector in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the current intimidation of workers and their representatives is at odds with a progressive industry looking to secure the sustainable development of the sector.”
Although McAllister isn’t planning on attending the summit this weekend, he plans to meet with stakeholders in Bangladesh to discuss improvements at a later date. The hope is that the collective financial impact of the boycott on the event and its contributors will encourage the Bangladeshi government and industry leaders to address the concerns of factory workers, rather than suppress them.
Across the board, businesses are feeling compelled to express their opinions through boycotts and donations in accordance with their mission. Boycotts in the apparel and service industry have become extraordinarily common, both on individual and corporate scales. In one such instance, activewear retailers including Patagonia and Polartec chose not to participate in Salt Lake City’s Outdoor Retailer trade show due to controversy surrounding the Bears Ears National Monument.
The summit will go ahead as planned, but eyes are on Bangladesh and their future action with regard to treatment of their employees.
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