“We are asking for what is due to us. We are not begging”
Global buyers have canceled and suspended orders of readymade garment (RMG) products worth more than US$2.5 billion from Bangladesh till 25 March. They are not only canceling and suspending orders, but also not taking ready goods.
Many fashion brands have shut their stores in Europe and North America due to the coronavirus outbreak which leads to this order cancellation and suspension, which is affecting 1.44 million workers. BGMEA President Rubana Huq sent a letter to the global buyers urging them not to cancel or hold orders till July so that workers could get their wages and allowances during two Eid festivals. However, no buyers are responding rather avoiding.
In the meantime, on 25 March, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a bailout/stimulus package of Tk 5,000 crore for export-oriented industries to fight the impact of coronavirus on the country’s economy, which brought a ray of hope for the textile and apparel factory owners as well as workers.
Besides, Bangladesh Bank has undertaken a business-friendly initiative, announcing that no one will be considered a loan defaulter till June.
However, as a partner of RMG business brands and buyers should come forward to save the workers too. A few days ago, before the government announcement, BGMEA President Rubana Huq published a post in her LinkedIn page highlighting the issue.
She wrote, “While the Covid19 wreaks havoc globally, the fate of our industry and our workers has ended up being uncertain. With Brands handing out cancellations and deferments, we have no idea what tomorrow holds.”
“Brands who were partners last month have all turned into strangers, unable to fathom our exposure to an existential crisis of handling the wages of 4.1 million workers. Without orders and with empty production spaces, all the workers run a risk of being totally unemployed for a long time to come,” she wrote.
She also wrote, “For us it comes down to a level of bare minimum survival mode, while the western world still has the privilege of having bailouts from their privileged governments. On that consideration, we call upon the international community to surface with a renewed pledge to support the workers of Bangladesh, if not just the businesses.”
Reaction from business people
National and international business people are measuring her demands in different ways.
“Let the workers go now. Deal with the buyers later. Every day delay is putting their lives further in danger. Bangladesh Bank is already saying they will not allow classifying as bad loans. There should also be a financial package for workers for at least the next 3 months. Buyers will only be back when demand is back. They’re busy saving the lives of their own people right now. We should be worried about the health and safety of our workers. That was the lesson of Tazreen Fire and Rana Plaza. The industry will be restructured in any case,” commented Khurrum Siddique, Managing Director, Simco Group.
“You are perhaps raising a pertinent issue, but I guess brands and buyers alone can’t help, everyone probably needs to fight out their own survival battles. We hope humanity struggles out through this crisis as early as possible, as less damaged as possible. But the bigger call will have to be taken by big corporations, governments and philanthropists of the world,” Sanjay Chawla, Editor in Chief and Publisher, Inside Fashion & Dir. Fashion United.
“But I am sure, this crisis would be a great learning curve for all, the world will have to realign to the new realities and perhaps new collaborations,” he added.
Naim Chowdhury, Director at Monarchy Fashions Ltd said, “All customers/brands should come forward and let factories continue to cut the fabric which is already in store. They should also let factories to clear/import the fabric and continue to sew and keep them ready. Our RMG sector has been listening to the brands for long and they must consider the situation since two Eid festivals are approaching.”
“The Brands should stand with the partner vendors in difficult times. In goods times, vendors are considered ‘Partners’ in sharing benefits. In crunch time, this partnership should be retained. Brands have been urging investments from manufacturers in compliance areas which according to their own version, is focused on the wellbeing of workers. Now it’s their turn, to be honest, and make a contribution to retain jobs of factory workers,” said S. Khalid, Merchandise Manager, Indus Apparel.
“The most alarming part is we actually don’t know how to act during this crucial moment. Some buyers are asking to hold cutting, some are claiming discounts, some aren’t receiving goods even after we’ve sent the goods to Chattogram port! Apart from financial risk, we’re facing the risk of contamination as well. I think some concrete decisions should come from brands by next couple of days, and accordingly, we and our platform BGMEA need to act,” Syed Fardeen Hashemy, Executive Director, Radisson Casual Wear Ltd.
Some mentioned Dr. Rubana’s urging as begging. In reply, BGMEA President said, “We are asking for what is due to us. We are not begging. Our ready goods which were to be taken are not being taken. And please don’t judge the industry situation by the minority status, there are hundreds of businesses which are small and medium being negatively impacted through this.”
She also urged, “During these times of trouble, stay by the side of your people. Let inhumanity not touch any of us. The scale of judgment can wait. You can judge later. Think about how you can support with helping our voice to reach the buyers.”
Mritunjoy Kumer Chakraborty, General Manager (HR, Admin, and Compliance), KAC Fashion Wear Ltd, commented, “We are passing crucial time, please again request buyers to take prepared garments and withdraw order cancellation. Since 2014 our garments factory full filled their compliance requirements, the maximum factory invested lots of amounts. 42 lac workers are involved in this sector. The factory could not effort this burden.”
BGMEA’s initiatives regarding COVID 19
New generation of BGMEA came forward with Manush Manusher Jonno Foundation to help the country by making free PPE suits for health workers and support workers to face the COVID-19 outbreak. With leading co-ordination from Zarin Rashid of TRZ Group and Navidul-Huq of Mohammadi Group; already a prototype has been developed and spec and CAD has been arranged to closest WHO standard for mass production.
“As there is a huge shortage of PPE suits we all have to come together and help the country by making free PPE suits for health workers and support workers to face the COVID-19 outbreak. We have already developed a spec and CAD-based on closest to WHO standards. Any waterproof fabric like Taffeta can be used. As long as the fabric is waterproof it will help,” said BGMEA.
BGMEA also urged:
1) Please let us know if you will be able to stitch some of these PPE garments
2) If you already have waterproof fabric available you can use that
3) If you want to donate leftover waterproof taffeta fabric please let us know
4) We will also need Nylon Zippers (Number 3 or 5, 68-70cm length)
5) We need Velcrow Tape
The association also urged to its member factories to shut their RMG units till 4 April. Already many factories have closed their units.