There are very few positives to be taken from the past few weeks as Covid-19 has wreaked havoc around the world, killing otherwise healthy people—and placing otherwise healthy businesses on life-support. In fact, as I write this, a great many garment suppliers globally are in urgent need of their own "intensive care". Cash is the lifeblood of our industry, and right now, many thousands if not tens of thousands of garment factories around the world are running out of it.
In these dreadful times, one is grateful for the small things, for the occasional ray of light. These past few weeks, I have found that in the solidarity and comradeship of the global garment and textile community.
Garment production is, as most will know, the most competitive of industries. Margins are fine, and competition between factories—and countries—is fierce. Brands often play off factories against one another. "Our supplier in Pakistan can do this order X amount cheaper," they might tell their trusted supplier in Bangladesh. Such rampant opportunism has been particularly rife since the onset of Covid-19.
Do other industries work this way? In other industries, is the relationship between buyer and brand so transient, so fragile? I find it hard to believe that it is.
I mention I have found comfort in the solidarity of fellow factories. And that is not just from Bangladesh, it is globally. I can't remember a time when I spoke to so many contemporaries from other garment suppliers around the world. One thing is bringing us together at the present time: we are all suffering. We all have had our orderbooks shredded by Covid-19 and are greatly concerned about how long this deadly disease will go on for and how long the western world will remain "closed" for business.
It has struck me while having these conversations that there is real strength in unity. Together, we are stronger, there is no doubt about that.
This in turn has got me thinking: how can we use that? How can we channel this unity into something more? Is there room, I wonder, for greater collaboration between garment manufacturers globally? I truly think there is.
Within the global garment industry, one thing we are hearing a great deal of right now is, what will our industry look like when the dust has settled on Covid-19? Dare we dream of a better, more sustainable, more ethical industry?
I think this is, indeed, possible. But one thing that will certainly help with this is greater collaboration among garment manufacturers globally. We need to all be singing from the same hymn sheet on the critically important issue of purchasing practices and pricing. If we are not, nothing will ever change.
At present, on a global level, we are seeing something of a "divide and rule" approach by global multi-nationals. In such a scenario, the global garment supply chain becomes as strong—or weak as the case may be—as its weakest link. Brands can easily shop around—especially at the present time—as they know there will always be somebody saying they will do things cheaper, somebody ready to cut corners.
I am all for healthy competition, and ours will always be a highly competitive industry globally. But, as garment manufacturers, can we not agree on some minimum acceptable standards that WE ALL agree must be abided by from brands? Can we not—collectively—call on brands to avoid the questionable usage of the "force majeure" legal remedy which is seeing brands walk away from contracts without any financial repercussions, while leaving the supplier financially liable? Can we not agree at a global level that the kind of behaviour we have seen from some brands—such as cancelling ready orders then ignoring all contact from beleaguered suppliers—will simply not be accepted?
Against such a backdrop, nothing can be off the table right now. Suppliers globally are stronger working together; conversely, they will be greatly weakened if they spend these turbulent times arguing among themselves. To this end, we need to stand up as one.
Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org