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Dhaka Apparel Summit was boycotted by International brands Zara and H&M

Dhaka Apparel Summit was boycotted by International brands Zara and H&M

The enthusiasm of the organisers of the second edition of apparel summit got somewhat dented well before the event when four overseas brand retailers including H&M, Zara, Gap etc made it known that they would not attend it. The organisers -the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE) -- certainly deserved better. They have not only been painstakingly preparing for the event to showcase their successes in remediation for improving factory environment and safety but also their greater efficiency in product manufacture. Participation of the four famous brands would have made the organisers pleased. They naturally expected that their efforts expended on compliance issues got duly appreciated.

In this connection, the commerce minister's reiteration of the demand for duty-free and quota-free access to US market, particularly after America's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, should fall on receiving ears. But to go by the speech US Ambassador in Bangladesh Marcia Bernicat made at the event, there is still some way to go before her country grants such a facility to Bangladesh garments. Renovation or refurbishing garments factories, according to her, need to be comprehensive. Her contention is that the factories outside the purview of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Bangladesh Accord must as well be brought under a consistent and sustainable inspection. Once all RMG stakeholders go by effective regulations, Bangladesh might be entitled to the favour. Also, she did not mince words when she spoke of the punitive actions against garments workers in Ashulia following the recent strikes. Her indication was that addressing the grievances of workers could be a better option.

Now if the fall in prices of RMG and rise in production cost of apparel are analysed against this background, the picture does not look very bright. A proposal for further share in remediation by the overseas importers has not got receptive ears either. So the obvious choice for garments factories here is to fend for themselves. The European market, although growing sluggish, at least maintains the duty-free facilities. A further option would be to explore market in Russia and the countries that have become independent from the former Soviet Union. A few other East European countries can similarly be interested in apparel from Bangladesh.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has gone one step ahead in that she rightly felt the need for coming out of the RMG-centric export mentality. The export basket should indeed be diversified if a long view is taken about the future of the country. Evidently, Bangladesh has the potential to outshine the world when it comes to green environment of factories. Already a few have made it a reality. But it costs. And the buyers abroad should be ready to part with some extra bucks for products made in such factories. If they do not, producers here should keep their options open. Sheikh Hasina said the government has taken massive steps to improve employers-workers relations. "Steps are underway to build a congenial relationship between employers and workers, ensuring legal rights of the workers and workers' welfare-oriented programmes like formation of Labour Welfare Foundation and Welfare Fund for the workers in the export-oriented industries," she mentioned further.

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