Ready Made Garments (RMG) sector of Bangladesh accounts for more
than 70 percent of overall exports. It enjoys special facilities
in global clothing markets. However it has been facing
challenges in compliance issues, especially when the competing
countries would always try to bring the issue to their
advantage. Therefore Bangladesh RMG industry must address the
During mid-2006, RMG units surrounding Dhaka faced labor unrest
demanding improved working conditions and higher wages. Labor
unrest occurred mainly because a minority factory owner
exploited poor workers with bad working conditions and
unacceptable wages. Although BGMEA managed to solve this issue
immediately, in the face of importers demand for better
conditions for workers and eradication of child labor.
Labor organizations and media agencies of the U.S. and UK have
been campaigning against RMG sector for a while. The U.S. Senate
is considering a bill titled 'The Decent Working Conditions and
Fair Competition Act', which when passed will allow any U.S.
citizen or organization to file law suits against importers who
deal with non-compliant apparel factories. If the compliance
issue is not taken seriously, it will become a big obstacle to
the RMG sector's progress.
To discuss the present state of the compliance of Bangladesh,
Cotton Bangladesh team met S.M. Emdadul Islam, Marketing and
Quality Assurance Director of Babylon Group. We are pleased to
share our exchange of views with our valued readers.
Cotton Bangladesh [CB]: What
are the major compliance issues of Bangladesh in the RMG sector?
S.M. Emdadul Islam [SMEI]:
The major compliance challenge we are facing at this point is
control of extra overtime hours within the legal limit. It is a
two fold and conflicting issue for the factory owners where we
find ourselves in a position of centre layer of a sandwich. When
buyers are pushing us to be compliant and keep the overtime
hours within the legal limit, workers are driving us mad to
ensure sufficient amount of extra overtime for them, which is
very much practical and understandable in the context of current
cost of living.
The irony of the matter is that this very requirement for
working beyond legal hours is often contributed by the buyers
themselves, as they gradually are reducing lead-time (sometimes
beyond reason), delaying decisions on styles etc. or bringing
about changes in the last minute.
CB: To what extent RMG
industries are meeting these issues?
SMEI: To speak the truth I
don't think any of the otherwise compliant factories in the
country can cope with this near-impossible task to any extent
that can be worthy of a feat, as the ground realities are the
same for all. As a result a few factories are forced to maintain
double sets of payment records or hide the extra overtime which
is another major violation of compliance in the context of
maintaining transparency with the buyers and thus inviting
troubles for the factories.
CB: Do you think that Skill
Development Training for the Personnel of RMG Industry is
necessary to meet compliance issues?
SMEI: Yes. Skill Development
Training for the workers can always help improve productivity,
reduce rework and thus ease pressure on the need for extra
overtime hours. But in regard to meeting overall compliance
issues, this has a limited role only in my opinion. Compliance
awareness encompassing general CoC and ethical aspects is still
rare amongst the workers and as well as the management. I think
for the benefit of both a comprehensive training is needed. But
let me touch one other fact that this kind of training often
backfires! Workers having the knowledge of their rights tend to
get violent and unruly on achieving them but they hardly display
awareness toward rendering their duties for which they are being
paid by the management. Now a day everyone talks about workers'
rights, be it a buyer or a trade union or an NGO. I wonder why
they miss the point at all or remain tight-lipped about the fact
that workers are supposed to get their rights/demands met in
exchange of fulfilling their part of the tasks!
CB: Many say that there are
lacks of harmony in the code of conducts followed by different
brands. Does it have impacts on overall industry?
SMEI: Well, it is an endless
debate undoubtedly. Still 'Buyers Forum' (a common platform of
all the leading brands like Nike, Levi's, GAP, Wal-Mart, H & M,
KappAhl, Lindex etc. headed by SEDF) has taken a praiseworthy
initiative to have a “Common Code of Conduct” for the industry.
Pending a common conclusion, the factories are more or less
struggling to meet the different points of views of different
buyers on a single issue. This indeed is affecting our lives
tremendously. It is adding on our cost, as we have to maintain a
separate team of trained people busy ever putting things right
and meeting/ facing external auditors who are visiting us in
almost on a daily basis with different and endless issues.
CB: Other compliance issues
like maternity leave, occupational health and safety, child
labour, how Bangladesh is dealing with these issues?
SMEI: I think the industry
has successfully graduated itself from the primary issues of CoC
like elimination of child labour, ensuring enough clean toilets,
safe drinking water, payment of right salary and wages, correct
payment of overtime hours etc. Now we are working on the issues
like occupational health and safety including building safety.
Still we have enough scope to improve and we are trying
wholeheartedly in this regard. I understand most factories are
honoring the law regarding maternity leave and associated
benefits to the incumbent workers and they are doing it at the
cost of a fortune as their long since pricing of the products
never had a room for this.
CB: There are major
Structural weaknesses in some areas in the RMG industry. How
Bangladesh can overcome this issue?
SMEI: I find the fact and
continuation of 'unplanned growth' as one of the major
structural weaknesses of this industry. Lack of well-groomed
disciplined workforce, dearth of properly and adequately trained
mid-level management force, lack of vision and strategy from the
part of the entrepreneurs, lack of enough positive and
constructive government interventions etc. could be named as
some other major weaknesses of the industry. I think it is time
that we started worrying and planning about the future of the
industry. We have to prepare ourselves to gradually change our
status of being cheap to medium priced RMG supplier to medium to
high end supplier in the not so distant future. We have to
ensure quickly enough adequate backward linkage industry to
fight lead-time issue, devise shop floor strategies to cope with
fancy styles with high value addition and orders involving
smaller quantities than so called minimums. IPE department of
BUET, BIFT and other institutes running courses toward aiding
the industry can play a big and important role in this regard.
Both BGMEA and BKMEA also have roles to play.
CB: According to the
Environment Conservation Act 1995 every factory with toxic waste
must have an effluent treatment plant installed to treat waste
before they get dumped into rivers or water bodies. But most of
the factories were found polluting air and water seriously as
they did not have ETPs or other measures to mitigate pollution.
Why the owners are ignoring this?
SMEI: Establishment of ETP
involves huge expenditure and as such very difficult to afford.
Even though ETP was compulsory always by the law, but lack of
enforcement of the same made people remain less aware or unaware
of this requirement resulting in all their investment plans
without it. A positive change in the trend is clearly visible in
the recent ventures, which is very assuring. I think Government
can and should support this sector by setting up central ETP's
in the industrial zones following the examples in our
neighboring countries like India and China.
CB: Last year the government
of Bangladesh and textile mill owners has agreed to set up
cost-effective effluent treatment plants (ETP) in small and
medium textile factories to prevent environmental pollution.
What is the present position of your factory regarding this?
SMEI: We have our ETP
functional since the beginning of our composite knit and washing
units. Constant improvements are being made in our ETP
functionaries. Although it adds substantially to the cost of
production, yet we feel good about it as it surely minimizes
pollution of the environment to a great extent. We treat this
matter as one of our social commitments.
CB: Report in different
newspaper says some industries are installing effluent treatment
plants due to pressure from buyers but they seldom operate them
because of the added cost. Is this due to lack of manpower to
monitor from the government side or they are just ignoring their
SMEI: These reports, I am
afraid, are true partially. I am sure there are many responsible
companies who are sincere about this important social commitment
and are doing accordingly. On the other hand there still exists
a lack of awareness amongst many other manufacturers, which are
being addressed from time to time by both BKMEA and BGMEA. More
vigilance from concerned department of the Government would