EVERY so often our RMG sector comes under battering, most of which are self-inflicted. Some are delivered by the owners and result from violation of rules and norms that wreak losses in terms of lives of workers and destruction of the factory. And sometimes the damage is inflicted by the workers themselves who, allegedly, always are either outsiders, whatever that means, or belong to factories other than the ones that are made the target of vandalism. The assault is sometimes from inobtrusive vicious forces whose identity one finds difficult to establish.
It is not for the first time that we are seeing the RMG sector come under severe strain. The question is whose, if any, and why, is our RMG industry the target?
The conspiracy theory is being bandied again, and perhaps, there are reasons to believe that the RMG sector is once gain being used for political profiteering. And, given the inexplicable involvement of the shipping minister, who having arrogated, if not appropriated, the responsibilities of the labour as well as the industries ministers to himself, has compounded the matter by his indiscrete and irresponsible remarks. He has willy-nilly become the enfant terrible of the establishment.
Let us take the conspiracy theory first. In this instance it no longer is a 'theory' since the RMG owners have alleged that the local and international media reports on wages and working hours are but a conspiracy to run down the largest source of foreign exchange for the country. And the ubiquitous shipping minister has even identified the conspirators. When accused of fomenting the recent violence and vandalism of the garments workers, he put the blame on the fundamentalists, for the recent inexplicable spate of violence wreaked by the garment workers over the last four days…and continuing.
Conspiracy theory has been a good excuse in the past, used by our political and business leaders, and in some cases our security analysts, to hide their failure to act or react to certain developments or their inability to explain certain occurrences.
Conspiracy or not, our galloping growth in RMG export has been looked at with envy by many potential competitors. That we are the second largest exporter of readymade garments has certainly caused flutters in many RMG exporting countries, and the achievement has been not because, but in spite, of the government. We take nearly 5% percent of the RMG export pie worldwide with a potential to reach $36 billion by 2020 if everything remains equal. However, one finds it difficult to believe that our competitors would devise means fair or foul to subvert our production capacity to capture our market.
And how much of what we have seen has a political angle to that? It may sound daft given the fact that nothing that we do as individuals or groups falls outside the ambit of politics or economics. But the goings on of recent days starting from the so-called rally of the garment workers on September 21 at Shurawardy Uddyan, called by, of all the people, the shipping minister, where many of the garment workers were made to 'volunteer' their presence at the cost of production, where transports were placed at the disposal of the rally participants, courtesy again of the shipping minister by virtue of his being the president of the transport workers' union, smells more than a rat. One wonders why Mr. Khan is taking upon himself added responsibilities when our natural inclination is to do the opposite.
If it is an attempt to garner votes of the garment workers like the way he tried of the bus and truck drivers by extracting concessions for them from the home minister only a few days ago, much of which are against public interest, then it is an extremely bland attempt. In fact, by posing as the garment workers' well wisher and calling for a minimum wage of Tk. 8,000 he has compounded the salary issue of the RMG workers, more so when a wage board is working on the matter. The minister cannot escape the responsibility for the continued violence since the rally.
If there are conspirators then we are ourselves creating conditions for their success. It is for the BGMEA to prove the media wrong instead of carping. By soft pedaling on the interest of the RMG workers we create conditions for dissension which then lay the workers open to exploitation. And exploiting their grievances for political ends can have disastrous outcome such as we having been watching for nearly a week.
The writer is Editor, Oped & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.