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Bangladesh needs diversifying its exporting items to reduce over-dependence on apparel export

Scandinavian countries are the most peaceful in the world. Norway, a Scandinavian country, is encompassing mountains, glaciers and deep coastal fjords. The Nordic country established diplomatic relations with Bangladesh on April 14, 1972, soon after the independence and it is continuing till today. Bangladesh export to Norway is comprised of 62% knitwear products, 15% woven garment and 22% other related products. Trade between Bangladesh and Norway in FY 2017-2018 counted over 250 million USD. Bangladesh attracts the Norwegian investors to its potential investing sectors- telecommunication, readymade garments, technology transfer, clean-tech, IT, power which are the rapid-growing sectors in Bangladesh as well.

In a very recent interview, H. E. Sidsel Bleken, Norwegian Ambassador to Bangladesh, shared some issues with Textile Today including the reason of apparel sourcing from Bangladesh, initiative for ethical trade, bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Norway, economic strategy those should be taken by Bangladesh, etc.  

Sidsel Bleken Norwegian Ambassador with BTT
Figure 1: Sidsel Bleken Norwegian Ambassador.

Textile Today: How do you see the economic growth of Bangladesh and how do you evaluate the contribution of the textile and apparel industry in Bangladesh’s economy?

Sidsel Bleken: I think the economic growth of Bangladesh is extraordinary. For so many years the growth is stable, and one of the positive aspects of this is living standard of the people has been improved immensely since independence.

The textile and apparel industry is, of course, one of the key drivers of this growth. Especially, this sector has given women a golden opportunity for economic solvency through employment. All the research studies show, that women play an important part in the economic growth and if you can manage to include women in the labor market, then the country will achieve more rather than if the women are not included. That is one of the paramount aspects behind Bangladesh’s economic boom.

Challenge is that Bangladesh is over-dependent on the textile and apparel export. It is a rapidly changing sector, day by day competitions are increasing and in the long run Bangladesh needs to diversify.

Textile Today: According to World Bank data, the majority of Bangladesh’s export to Norway is textile and clothing products and Bangladesh is the second sourcing country for textile and clothing products. What is the reason to choose Bangladesh as a top sourcing destination for apparel products from your point of view?

Sidsel Bleken: There are several reasons for that, first, there are a lot of top quality factories producing quality products at a reasonable price. Also, Bangladesh textile and apparel industry can produce big volume of products, though Norway is a small inhabitant country with only 5 million people. So, it is a combination of ability, quality, capacity which Norwegian buyers are attracted to source from Bangladesh.

“Bangladesh is over-dependent on the textile and apparel export. It is a rapidly changing sector, day by day competitions are increasing and in the long run Bangladesh needs to diversify.”

Sidsel Bleken Norwegian Ambassador.

Also, I believe they have established good relations with a number of factories. And of course, the improvements that have happened since the Rana Plaza incident has made Bangladesh even more competitive. As most of the factories safety and security has been taken care of, worker’s rights are better protected and factories are maintaining sustainability in terms of environmental aspects, these are important factors for Norwegian buyers and consumers.

Sidsel Bleken with Textile Today
Figure 2: Sidsel Bleken in conversation with Akhi Akter, Managing Editor, Textile Today.

Textile Today: Bangladesh garments manufacturers have increased their workers’ wage up to 51% in December 2018 as workers can live a better life, however, it is not enough to ensure living wages for garment workers. How could brands come forward to ensure living wages for the workers who are making apparel products for them?

Sidsel Bleken: The Norwegian buyers always try to follow the ethical standards set by the UN, also the Norwegian govt. is constantly in dialogue with the companies to follow the UN principles, and following up of production chain that goods are produced in a proper way. Price negotiation is an important factor. Buyers need profit, as well as workers,  need a livable wage, so do the factories need to make their profit. In the end, good price negotiation skill is important for factories to ensure these aspects.

Norway is also working with a project called Ethical Trade Norway. They are working with a number of factories, giving training on social dialogue both to workers and employers. I think it is very important for workers to negotiate in a proper manner with factory owners to present their needs and rights.

Textile Today: European fashion brands who buy readymade garments from Bangladesh agreed on 3 September to hand over responsibility for ensuring worker safety to a new body called the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC). How do you see this initiative?

Sidsel Bleken: I think this is a very positive step that, finally they manage to have a good dialogue between BGMEA and Accord. Also, to be able to find a solution that is accepted by buyers and factory owners. We all have to work together to maintain the quality of the inspection for workers safety. As after the Rana Plaza incident, Bangladesh had a bad reputation, and Europe is concerned with the safe working condition.

It is crucial to show the consumers and to the world that Bangladesh is taking the issue of workers safety very seriously.

Bangladesh is a great country with immense potential, you need to take care of these resources – human and natural – in a sustainable manner. Human resources are the greatest resource for any country, and to be able to give proper education and that labor rights are protected, these are the most important factors for any country.

Textile Today: Bangladesh apparel industry is the second-largest in the world, what are the opportunities you see for Norway to invest in the sector in Bangladesh?

Sidsel Bleken: Norway is a small country and I think we will not invest in the factories rather we will continue as buyers. Bangladesh is a large sourcing country – around 40% of garments sold in Norway come from Bangladesh, but we don’t have any plan to invest here.

Textile Today: The Nordic country established diplomatic relations with Bangladesh on April 14, 1972, soon after the independence and it is continuing till today. What are the challenges do you see in the bilateral trade with Bangladesh and how the challenges could be overcome?

Sidsel Bleken: I don’t think there are any concerning challenges in the bilateral trade. Bangladesh is a great producer in agricultural products, which possibly could be exported to Norway. That will give Bangladesh export more diversified products and creating more markets. And it will hugely potential for Bangladesh in the future. For investments in Bangladesh, however, there are challenges, in particular, related to ease of doing business and lack of predictable framework conditions.   Corruption is also a big challenge, which needs to be addressed properly.

Textile Today: Environment getting worse day by day. Rivers around Dhaka are getting contaminated immensely mainly by textile mills. How can Norway help the textile industry to be sustainable for the environment? 

Sidsel Bleken: Norway is not involved in textiles but there is a project on plastics we will support that is to start up soon, which is related to river pollution. This project will address a number of issues including public awareness, policy regulations of using plastics in the industry.

Finally, Bangladesh is a great country with immense potential, you need to take care of these resources – human and natural – in a sustainable manner. Human resources are the greatest resource for any country, and to be able to give proper education and that labor rights are protected, these are the most important factors for any country.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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