A former caretaker government adviser yesterday came down on the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the apex trade body for the garment sector, for its continued support to the sub-contractors who run noncompliant factories.
“The BGMEA does not represent the successful entrepreneurs who have already invested to ensure the safety of their workers. It only stands for the sub-contractors, who exploit the cheap labour force, and the politically-linked owners,” said Hossain Zillur Rahman, a former caretaker government adviser.
He cited the Tuba Group as a case in point. “The owner of Tuba Group is a sub-contractor -- why are the BGMEA and the government standing up for him?”
Rahman's comments came at a dialogue on the challenges facing the garment industry and ways to overcome them, jointly organised by Chintar Chash, a research firm, and The Dhaka Forum at the National Press Club in the capital.
When contacted, BGMEA President Atiqul Islam, however, said it is no longer possible to manufacture garments under the sub-contracting system, as the international retailers are wary of placing orders under the arrangement nowadays.
“We used to cater work orders under sub-contracting a few years ago. But, now we are facing a crisis of orders due to some oddities over the last two years. Perhaps, Hossain Zillur Rahman is not aware of the latest situation,” he added.
Meanwhile, Rahman said it is about time that the entrepreneurs invest in developing skilled work force as cheap and unskilled labour will no more lead to the growth of the garment sector.
“Cheap labour force was one of the main factors behind the growth of the garment industry in Bangladesh, but that time has ended,” Rahman said, while citing China as a reference point for increasing workers' productivity through investment.
Moderating the dialogue, former Bangladesh Bank governor Salehuddin Ahmed said entrepreneurship did not develop in the garment industry.
“They take all kinds of benefits from the government such as incentive and credit from the export development fund. But there is a lack of willingness among them.”
Syed Abul Maksud, a researcher and columnist, said extensive research should be done especially by the BGMEA to identify the problems in the garment sector as well as find the ways to overcome them.
Citing the incident centring on the non-payment of arrears by Tuba Group, he said the government, the law enforcing agencies, the owner, workers and trade union leaders, all have to take responsibilities.
Mahbub Jamil, a former adviser to a caretaker government, said the trade unions are being used politically. “There is no practice of internal trade unionism -- it is the external trade unionism that is responsible for foul plays in any industry.”
Binayak Sen, research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said the government will have to provide infrastructural support to the owners who want to relocate their factories. He also suggested the government do a census on the garment sector through the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
Iktedar Ahmed, former chairman of the minimum wage board, said determining and giving the minimum wages by considering the cost of living is the main challenge for the sector. Although the minimum wage for garment workers was fixed at Tk 5,300 last year, it is still below the standard of living, he said.
Shafique uz Zaman, a professor of economics at Dhaka University, presented a keynote, while Abdus Salam Murshedy, a former president of the BGMEA; Fazlul Haque, a former president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, and Khandoker Golam Moazzem, additional research director of CPD, also spoke.