Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka is forced on her knees. The garment industry is ubiquitous with poor worker conditions, corruption, bad infrastructure and an environment in disrepair. The recent terror attack is another slap in the face for Bangladesh but also for all the foreign governments and international industries looking for commercial collaboration and new partnerships in Dhaka.
Ida Peters Ginsborg, Head of office of Behind the Seams. Copenhagen, Denmark.
Shama Ruhan, Head of office of Behind the Seams. Dhaka, Bangladesh.
On July 1st. the world witnessed yet another terror attack on innocent people. This time it happened in the heart of Dhaka’s international diplomatic quarter. The twenty-two victims that were brutally murdered count Bangladeshi, Indian, American, Italian and Japanese people. The target was clear and it hit bull’s eye. This attack is an atrocious tragedy in itself. Bloody traces from the terror attack leave Dhaka more enervated than ever not only for the local and international people living in Dhaka but also for the largest industry in the city, namely the garment industry.
Will the garment industry leave Dhaka behind?
In Bangladesh the garment industry is primarily lead by international companies manufacturing clothes for western firms in factories in and around Dhaka. The industry already exemplifies the challenges associated with global manufacturing: Un-transparent and fast production patterns, cheap labor and abusive working conditions. The collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 where more than 1000 garment workers died, is a clear example of how poor conditions and critical infrastructure have tragic consequences. This was a disaster, however it also created much needed awareness about the working conditions of the humans that make our clothes. Global media cover and consumer questions have led to initiatives from the garment industry to improve conditions for the workers and the environment. This work must continue so that Bangladesh, as foreseen, can grow and emerge as a potential new global economy as the world’s second largest garment exporter. Unfortunately, terror attacks like these make us afraid and it might seem easiest to leave the troubled city behind. For all we know the incentives for international companies to be in Dhaka are ever more fragile now.
“Ultimately, this attack will make foreigners afraid of being in Bangladesh both as tourists and as professionals. This fear is real as the terrorists particularly killed foreigners. This will have direct negative impacts on the development of the garment industry and ultimately threaten the nation’s economy”. Says Ziaur Rahman, who is working in a non-governmental organization based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Foreign companies reacting to the terror attack
Results of terror attacks like this might be that international companies move their production to a more “safe” place. Foreign companies have been quick to react. H&M has recommended all employees to avoid unnecessary travel to Bangladesh. Japanese UNIQLO has introduced the same precautions. Moreover, countries like Denmark that shows a clear shift away from traditional donor-recipient relationship towards a more commercial collaboration with Bangladesh might withdraw from pursuing their own interest and promoting a sustainable private sector development in Bangladesh and look towards other countries. This will be a great loss for Danish Industry and Danish government interests. But even more so, it will be devastating for workers in Dhaka, a catastrophe for the sustainable development in the city, and for Bangladesh as a growing textile economy.
“Bangladesh needs the world’s support to deal with and overcome this tragedy rather than panicking and pulling business out of Bangladesh. We are dependent on the governments around the world and on the international brands that have made a US$20 billion garment industry in Bangladesh to promote strategic and sustainable planning together with us”. Says Ruhan Shama, Head of Office Behind the Seams, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Terror attacks like the one in Dhaka could have grave consequences for the garment industry, such as the one we saw in Sri Lanka during the final stages of the war against the Tamil Tigers. Based on poor human rights records in 2010 the EU decided to pull out the Generalized Scheme Preferences (GSP) facility that allows developing countries to pay less or no duties on their exports to the EU. This gives them vital access to EU markets and contributes to their economic growth. This caused a serious setback for the industry and a decrease in garment workers, whereas the vast majority were women.
Organizations like Behind the Seams working towards greater transparency in the garment industry face massive challenges. In raising awareness about the consequences of the environmental impact of the garment industry and the social and health implications inflicted on the people in the third world working in this sector, transparency is vital to any progress. We are working hard to provide total transparency. What was difficult before is even more challenging now. In the wake of the terror attack safety will be an issue no one can afford to ignore. We fear that a withdrawal of Western representatives from the garment industry in Dhaka will create a thicker, less transparent layer of trade and corruption. Despite the fear, we will not leave Dhaka behind for a collapse but continue to strengthen the ties and promote sustainable and prosperous future for the city and the expanding garment industry.