The kind of onslaught Bangladesh's readymade garment industry is facing, is perhaps best described by Shakespeare: “Mischief, thou art afoot. Take thou what course thou wilt”. Under the veneer of recent tragedies, concocted, arbitrary and imaginary allegations are circulated, some of them even made it to the headlines. It is quite apparent a monster has been let loose, and if it is not put on a leash, it will spell disaster for the frontiers of our economy. Today our position as the second largest exporter stands on slippery ground.
Our jute mills started to shut down one after another in the eighties. One of the reasons behind this was Europe's perception of the natural fiber as a health hazard and its preference for synthetics. However, we were the main reason behind the disaster. Various charters of demands followed by unrest/arson in the mills acted as catalysts to accelerate the shut down process. No industrialist can grapple with a situation where s/he has to confront hostile situations internationally and also in the home front or a situation where unjust demands mean expenses that over-shoot earnings. Eventually we became a laughing stock as our very jute found its way to resurrect the dead jute mills of our neighbours who did not even grow 50 percent of the raw jute. We must prevent history from repeating itself.
We seem to be unaware that posters were displayed-- visuals of disasters and unrest in Bangladesh as background with superimposed captions “Buyers - come back to safer haven”-- on the walls of many garment factories of other countries from where readymade garment industry has shifted to Bangladesh. Who wouldn't like to get back their “lost business” once their own political/ethnic violence stopped? Buyers are as sensitive as Siberian ducks and if they are disturbed or upset/embarrassed, they move out to the nearest comfort zone and seldom return. Sri Lanka is the best example as to why we have flourished in this sector and that is why you see them working in garments or occupying prime positions with buyers. We don't want to swap places with them, do we?
We in the third world hardly come across footage or photographic coverage of the unfortunate victims of disasters occurring in the West particularly the dead or severely injured or bodily impaired. It didn't happen even after the ghastly terrorist attack in New York on 9/11 or after the bombing of the London underground or after the recent fertiliser factory disaster in Texas that killed more than 100 including almost blowing away a nearby township. Was media cordoned off till everything was cleared and removed? Yet we are regularly washing our soiled linen in public and giving it international exposure. Is this behaviour prudent?
Today in our backyard reportedly stands a network of 400 purpose-built industrial infrastructures with potentials and incentive packages for garments. The need of the hour for them is to have a couple of Siberian ducks fly out of the cuckoos nest as all eyes are set to patronise this region that was once backward or under the rule of uniformed people.
For that matter, a friendly country as a gesture to off-set huge “balance of payment” deficit allowed duty free access (quota) in September 2011 – yet in their 2013-14 Budget mitigate the wrath of their affected businessmen by slapping a 12.36 percent countervailing duty and E.Tax, making our products less competitive. Today we are receiving enquires daily for purchase of non-compliant factories by their businessmen – raising questions in our mind whether netting in the quota becoming a manufacturer at this end and earning profit as a buyer in the other end is what this is all about.
If the present situation heralds the sunset for this sector, it will be something as Shakespeare said - “O, what a fall was there, my countrymen ! Then I and you, and all of us fell down… ” below is a list of some of those who would fall with it:
* Imported components for the Padma Bridge will be without annual US$ 19.10 billion from garment export.
* Local Cosmetics and Saree Industries ('Mala', 'Jhony-Print', etc.) biggest customer garment workers.
* Confectionary and Bakery Shops that flourished in the thousands - the biggest sale for worker's tiffin
* Public transport network –bulk passengers from the garment sector, morning and evening.
* Covered Trucks/Mini Vans, Microbus – designed primarily to serve garment and accessory suppliers.
* Multi-lane Dhaka-Chittagong Highway - not needed as 70 percent traffic originate from garment cargo.
* On-going Khanpur or Pangoan ICDs – should be abandoned as 98 percent garment traffic envisaged.
* Mongla Port - already almost extinct will continue to remain in oblivion.
* Multipurpose Berth (MPB) at Chittagong resurrected by garments will no longer be bursting at the seams.
* Private ICDs suffocating with the run-over of garment containers – will be 99 percent empty.
* Container Trailers, Prime Movers, Mechanical Handling Equipments – will all lie idle.
* Gantry Cranes – newly procured/in pipeline 80 percent users garment – will mostly remain idle.
* Revenue Earnings of Port Authority – nose dive as maximum revenue from garment sector.
* Occupancy at five star Hotels, pipeline Holiday Inn/Marriot etc.-in dire straits as 80 percent directly/indirectly ex-garment.
* Freight and Shipping Companies multi-national and local – 100 percent lured inbound/outbound garment cargo.
* Travel Agencies, Airlines, Cell Phone, T and T, Real Estate, Electricity, ITC and MIS all thrive on garments.
* Multinational Garment Buyers in huge local offices will eclipse and all jobs for locals terminated.
* Banks – will evaporate as major client/sponsor directors ex-garment flourishing even after Hallmark scam.
* 7 new private banks just launched – will not see the light of the day as some Sponsor Directors were ex-garment owners.
* Business Class sales and Travel Tax – the biggest patrons from garments and Biman biggest beneficiary including cargo
* Private airlines will be grounded without this sector.
* Biman's newly acquired wide body aircraft will hardly leave the ground without the garment sector.
* Cargo Village Complex will be rendered extinct as 90 percent cargo traffic to and from Dhaka comes from garments.
* Operation of Freighters and Chartered Freighters will come to a grinding halt without this sector.
* Gas, Electricity and Water in the industrial sector – will be self-sufficient and without garments expansion won't be needed
* Local Electrical item and Cable Industries – will be badly affected.
* Security Companies/Retired Military Personnel will be affected as they are major clients/employers of garments.
* Newsprint and various papers locally produced and imported used for packaging, accessories will close.
* In-bound and major part of Out-bound Traffic in Dry Port like Benapole etc. will fall as 80 percent comes from the garments sector.
* Backward Linkage Industries –like thread, buttons, polybags, plastic products will shut down
* CandF Agents/Forwarders: in the 100s and their staff will face serious problems as 75 percent are garment dependant for import/export
* Courier Services international like DHL, FedEx etc and local like Sunderban etc. will nose dive.
* Printing and Packaging – business will fall as business from garment is their major source of earnings.
* Computer Software for Inventory Control, Attendance, Payroll etc - will nose dive as the garment industry is their main patron.
* Computer Hardware like Computer, CAD, Digitiser, Laser Cutter, Pattern Cutter, etc will be seriously affected
* CCTV, Radio Link, Barcode Printer and Reader, VTS, Team Tracker etc. – major patron is the garment sector.
* Event Management pioneered by the garment sector will be affected seriously.
* Fashion Show and Fashion Designing University pioneered by garments will be affected.
* Waste “Jhoot” business that provides livelihoods to many will disappear.
* Contribution towards internal revenue will drop Corporations and Municipalities in cities, towns and even in remote area earn huge revenue from this sector. Amongst these are Revenue for issuance or renewal of Trade License, Fire License, IRC and ERC, EPB Registration, Customs Scanning Charge, various Port Charges etc.
* Biggest customer for pre-fabricated building structures business is the garment sector.
We are a small country in the midst of giant economies – we should tread with extreme caution. The need of the hour is - responsible utterances and reporting. We must refrain from turning ourselves into a “Vacuum Cleaner” to pick up only the dirt, otherwise the plus side of garments “will be interred with the bones”.
The writer is Chairman, Port and Shipping Committee of the BGMEA.