RMG Sector in Bangladesh an Appraisal -By Rayhanur Rahman Enam

National

The history of the Readymade Garments (RMG) Sector in Bangladesh is a fairly recent one. Nonetheless it is a rich and varied tale. The RMG industry of Bangladesh has expanded dramatically over the last three decades. Traditionally, the jute industry dominated the industrial sector of the country until the 1970s. Since the early 1980s, the RMG industry has emerged as an important player in the economy of the country and has gradually replaced the jute industry.
Although Bangladesh is not developed in industry, it has been enriched in Garment industries in the recent past years. In the field of Industrialization garment industry is a promising step. The sector now dominates the modern economy in export earnings, secondary impact and employment generations. It has given the opportunity of employment to millions of unemployed, especially innumerable uneducated women of the country. It is making significant contribution in the field of our export income.
Bangladesh exports 35 types of garment products to about 31 countries around the world. The RMG sector is a 100% export-oriented industry. Thus, Bangladesh today is considered an economic competitor in terms of international garment manufacturing by other countries of the region and beyond since the independence in 1971. Itappears to contribute much of the socio-economic development in the first decade of the twenty-first century for Bangladesh and its approximately 1.5 million women workers depends on the continuing success of the RMG industry.
However, Bangladesh is undergoing several problems in this sector. Because of these problems Bangladesh is losing its fame and efficiency in this sector. Recent accidents and casualties in the RMG sector are some outcomes of severeanomalies and maltreatments in this sector. Problems surrounding ready-made garments sector are as follows:

Lack of compliance with government policies:

In the Fifth Five Year Plan (1997-2002) for the labor and manpower sector the objectives relatable to OSH are:
A.    “To ensure fair wages, welfare and social protection of workers under the structural adjustment programs adopted by the government.”
B.    “To initiate steps to protect children from economic exploitation.

According  to  Section  62 of the  2006  Bangladesh  Labor  Law,  the  following  standards  are  required  for  all RMG  factories:
A.    At least one alternative exit with a stair connecting all the floors of the factory building.
B.    No exit can be locked or fastened during working hours.
C.    An effective and clearly audible means to warn of fires.
D.    Cleared passages providing access to each escape route.
E.    A fire  drill  at  least  once  a year  in  each  factory  where  more  than  fifty  workers are employed.

But it seems most of the factories simply don’t bother at those bindings and they frequently decline the compliance with these regulations that could have saved lives of millions of RMG workers in past years. As a result we saw lots of incidents happens for example OnApril 11, 2005, the nine-stored building of Spectrum Sweater Industries at Baipail in Palashbari under Savar upazila collapsed because of its weak foundation, leaving 64 workers dead and many more remaining missing to date. A five-stored building housing Phoenix Garments in Tejgaon collapsed on February 25, 2006, leaving at least 25 workers dead.

Insufficient Laws:
The garment industry of Bangladesh has been the key export division and a main source of foreign exchange for the last 25 years. National labor laws do not apply in the EPZs, leaving BEPZA in full control over work conditions, wages and benefits. Garment factories in Bangladesh provide employment to 40 percent of industrial workers. But without proper laws and facilitation of labor unions, the workers are demanding their wants throughunregulated and random strikes and, as a consequence, conflicts with the industry owners become a common story.

Raw Material Imports:
Bangladesh imports raw materials for garments like cotton, thread color etc. This dependence on raw materials hampers the development of garments industry. Moreover, foreign suppliers often supply low quality materials, which result in low quality products.

Illiteracy and Unskilled Workers:
Most of the illiterate women workers employed in garments are unskilled and so their products often become lower in quality.

Unsafe and Unhealthy Wok Place:
Taking the advantages of workers’ poverty and ignorance the owners forced them to work in unsafe and unhealthy work place overcrowded with workers beyond capacity of the factory floor and improper ventilation. Most of the garment factories in our country lack the basic amenities where our garment workers sweat their brows from morning to evening to earn our countries the major portion of our foreign exchange. Anybody visiting the factory, the first impression he or she would have that these workers are in a roost.Improper ventilation, stuffy situation, filthy rooms are the characteristics of the majority of our factories. The owners profit are the first priority and this attitude has gone to such an extent that they do not care about the lives of workers.

Problems with RMG Management:
There are some other problems which are associated with this sector. Those are- lack of marketing tactics, absence of easily on-hand middle management, a small number of manufacturing methods, lack of training organizations for industrial workers, supervisors and managers, autocratic approach of nearly all the investors, fewer process units for textiles and garments, sluggish backward or forward blending procedure, incompetent ports, entry/exit complicated and loading/unloading takes much time, time-consuming custom clearance etc.

Gender Discriminations:
In the garment industry in Bangladesh, tasks are allocated largely on the basis of gender. This determines many of the working conditions of women workers. All the workers in the sewing section are women, while almost all those in the cutting, ironing and finishing sections are men. Women workers are absorbed in a variety of occupations from cutting, sewing, inserting buttons, making button holes, checking, cleaning the threads, ironing, folding, packing and training to supervising.
Women work mainly as helpers, machinists and less frequently, as line supervisors and quality controllers. There are no female cutting masters. Men dominate the administrative and management level jobs. Women are discriminated against in terms of access to higher-paid white collar and management positions.
When asked why they prefer to employ women foe sewing, the owner and managers gave several reasons. Most felt that sewing is traditionally done by women and that women are more patient and more controllable than men.

Inadequate Wages:
Bangladesh government sets minimum wages for various categories of workers. According of Minimum Wage Ordinance 1994, apprentices’ helpers are to receive Tk500 and Tk930 per month respectively. Apprentices are helpers who have been working in the garment industry for less than three months. After three months, Apprentices are appointed as helpers. Often female helpers are discriminated against in terms of wages levels, and these wages are also often fixed far below the minimum wage rate. A survey conducted in 1998 showed that 73% of female helpers, as opposed to 15% of their male counterparts, did not receive even the minimum wage.

Insufficient Loans and Other Facilities:
Insufficiency ofloan in time, uncertainly of electricity, delay in getting materials, lack of communication, problem in taxes etc. often obstruct the industry. In the world market 115 to 120 items of dress are in demand whereas Bangladesh supplies only ten to twelve items of garments. India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan etc., have made remarkable progress in garments industries. Bangladesh is going to challenge the garments of those countries in the world market.

Unit Labor Cost:
Bangladesh has the cheapest unit labor cost in South Asia. It costs only 11 cents to produce a shirt in Bangladesh, whereas it costs 79 cents in Sri Lanka and 26 cents in India. Clearly, Bangladesh’s comparative advantage lies in having the cheapest unit labor cost.

Working Hours:
Though the wages are low, the working hours are very long. The RMG factories claim to operate one eight-hour shift six days a week. The 1965 factory Act allows women to work delivery deadlines; however, women are virtually compelled to work after 8 o’clock. Sometimes they work until 3 o’clock in the morning and report back to start work again five hours later at 8 o’clock. They are asked to work whole months at a time the Factory Act, which stipulates that no employee should work more than ten days consecutively without a break.

Poor accommodation facilities:
As most of the garment workers come from the poor family and comes from the remote areas and they have to attend to the duties on time, these workers have to hire a room near the factory where four to five huddle in a room and spend life in sub human condition.
For four to five workers there is one common latrine and a kitchen for which they have to pay from Tk=2000 to Tk=2500/-.They share this amount among themselves to minimize the accommodation expense.
One cannot believe their eyes in what horrible condition they have to pass out their time after almost whole day of hard work in the factory. After laborious job they come into their roost, cook their food and have their dinner or lunch in unhygienic floor or bed and sleep where they take their food. They share the single bed or sleep on the floor.
The owners of these factories must not treat the workers as animals. The owners of these factories who drive the most luxurious car and live in most luxurious house do ever think that these are the workers who have made their living so juicy. Will these selfish owners ever think of these workers of their better living for the sake of humanity by providing better accommodation for these workers in addition to providing with the job?

Safety Problems:
Safety need for the worker is mandatory to maintain in all the organization. But without the facility of this necessity, a lot of accident is taking place every year. Some important causesof the accident include routes for exits are blocked by storage materials; machine layout is often staggered; lack of signage for escape route during an accident; no providence for emergency lighting; doors, opening along escape routes, are not fire resistant; doors are not self-closing and often do not open along the direction of escape; fire exit or emergency staircase lacks proper maintenance; lack of proper exit route to reach the place of safety; fire in a Bangladeshi factory is likely to spread quickly because the principle of compartmentalization is practiced; and so forth.Many tragedies happens due to unsafety problem in factories On 2010 at least 111 workers in a fire at Tazreen Fashions, 51 workers in fire at Garib and Garib, Matrix Sweater and Ha-Meem Group, 65 workers in a fire at Chitagong KTS Composite Textile Mills in 2006, 20 workers in a fire at Narayanganj Sun Knitting in 2005.Working conditions in the RMG sector frequently violate international standards, and Codes of Conduct. Work areas are often overcrowded with limited workspaces, causing occupational hazards and contagious diseases. Injuries, fatalities, disablement and death from fire and building collapses are frequent in the RMG sector.

Political Crisis:
Garments industries often pay dearly for political unrest, strike and terrorism etc.
Adverse Effect Global Economic Crisis:
Finally destruction oftwin tower in 11 September 2001. Invasionof Afghanistan and Iraq and depression in world Economy have seriously affected the export trade of Bangladesh.

Price Competitiveness:
China and some other competitors of Bangladesh have implemented sharp price-cutting policies in exporting garment products over the last few years, but Bangladesh has failed to respond effectively to such policies. China was able to drop the export price of 29 garment categories by 46 per cent on average in the United States within a year, from $6.23 per sq meter in December 2001 to $3.37 per sq meter in December 2002. Bangladesh needs to respond to such price-cutting policies of its rivals in order to remain competitive in the quota-free global market.

Lead Time:
Lead time refers to the time required for supplying the ordered garment products after the export order has been received.In the 1980s, the usual lead time in the garment industry was 120-150 days for the main garment supplier countries of the world; it has been reduced to 30-40 days in the current decade.

However, in this regard the Bangladesh RMG industry has improved little; for example, the average lead time is 90-120 days for woven garment firms and 60-80 days for knit garment firms. In China, the average lead time is 40-60 days and 50-60 days for woven and knit products respectively; in India, it is 50-70 days and 60-70 days for the same products respectively.Bangladesh should improve its average lead time to compete in the international market.
n    I recommend some points how Bangladesh can improve RMG sectors:
n    Build relationships between unions, workers and employers through training on legal rights and conflict resolution.
n    Engage in collective dialogue and training around trade unions.
n    Engage suppliers in dialogue about how to establish effective unions.
n    Begin a dialogue with international buyers related to trade union rights and responsibilities in Bangladesh.
n    Build links with ILO, NGOs, buyers and development partners to provide training to workers and trade unions on collective representation.
n    Labor laws should enforce non-political affiliation of trade unions.
n    Government Increase manpower to ensure strict monitoring of the implementation of occupational health and safety regulations.
n    Ensure occupational health and safety monitoring and evaluation systems.
n    Raise awareness among workers regarding personal insurance for accidents and negative health impacts.
n    Provide insurance to protect workers when workplace accidents occur.
n    Provide periodic health clinics to workers so they can confidentially report health problems and receive treatment.
n     Government should provide an enabling environment for companies to respect human rights.
n    The factory should monitor the performance of workers after training on working conditions has been carried out.
n    Design floor layoutsso that workers are allowed to look at each other.
n    Engage middle managers in all projects to improve working conditions. Ensure that messages are translated for the needs of middle managers, and that managers’ performance is assessed on social criteria as well as financial.
n    The factory should engage participation committees at every level.
n    The factory should Work with other companies to disseminate best practices.
n    The factory should follow all environmental laws, even those in draft form.

The Ready-Made Garments (RMG) industry occupies a unique position in the Bangladesh economy. It is the largest exporting industry in Bangladesh, which experienced phenomenal growth during the last 25 years. Given the remarkable entrepreneurial initiatives and the dedication of its workforce, Bangladesh can look forward to advancing its share of the global RMG market.

The writer is student of BBA at the International Islamic university Chittagong, Dhaka campus.