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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

1 January 2010


Contributor Ethical Fashion Forum


Bangladesh has a booming garment manufacturing industry and is supplier to many western retailers. However, industrial tragedies in the region are attracting increasing attention from the media , resulting in calls for reform in the sector.


1. Introduction
2. Manufacturers under pressure
3. Accord on Fire and Building safety in Bangladesh
4. Summary
5. Useful Links
6. References

1. Introduction

The garment and textiles industry is one of the largest contributors to Bangladesh’s rapid growing economy. The sector employs an estimated 4 million people, mostly women. Low production costs have attracted global brands to manufacture in Bangladesh, but the huge orders and tight deadlines put factory workers under immense pressure.

In 2012 the textile industry accounted for 45% of all industrial employment in the country yet only contributed 5% of the Bangladesh’s total national income. Living wage non-compliance is a common issue in the Bangladesh garment industry and in September 2013 hundreds of garment workers clashed with police during protests demanding wage increases.

45% of industrial sector employment in Bangladesh is within garment manufacture

In April 2013 the collapse of the Rana Plaza commercial building in Dhaka, Bangladesh shocked the world and made global headlines. The tragedy killed 1,133 people and injured another 2,500.

Though the development also housed banks and shops, the employees of these enterprises had been warned against coming into work due to cracks discovered in the walls of the building.

Although Rana Plaza was on a large scale, industrial tragedies of this sort are not uncommon in Bangladesh. On November 24th 2012 a fire at the Tazreen garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka killed 117 workers.

Another factory fire in October 2013 left at least 10 workers dead. Factory disasters are reflective of the strain placed upon the industry by western retailer’s continuous demand for new stock and the short lead times that high street retail have come to rely on.

2. Manufacturers under pressure

The tragedy highlighted underlying issues with Bangladeshi garment manufacture. Low production costs have made factories such as those in Rana Plaza popular among international retail brands, but the demands of such companies put huge pressures on suppliers.

Struggling to fill gigantice orders, garment factories approved by retailers outsource work to other unseen factories, where standards could be completely unregulated.

Even approved factories are prone to health and safety hazards. Bolts of fabric have been observed by factory visitors to block corridors and exits, alongside boxes of finished garments and components. The fabrics may be flammable themselves, and in case of fire there is a considerable risk of workers being trapped.

Strict deadlines mean employees can be worked around the clock, sometimes on unpaid overtime, to complete orders. Management become fearful of workers leaving the factory and lock the doors, as reported of the Tazreen factory fire, 2012, in which at least 117 workers were killed.

Since 2005 over 600 Bangladeshi garment workers have died in factory fires (laborrights.org) due to the poor working conditions

3. Accord on Fire and Building safety in Bangladesh

Rana Plaza heightened awareness of the issues with Bangladeshi garment manufacturing. The media outcry created pressure for retailers and fashion brands to take action and raise standards.

The creation of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh create an oppurtunity for enterprises to commit to change if they signed up and so far the project has received over 100 signatories, covering 1,600 garment factories in Bangladesh. This represents 1/3 of Bangladesh’s garment manufacturing industry.

The Accord is a legally binding agreement. Signatories commit to carrying out factory inspections and reports. When issues are discovered retailers commit to ensuring that repairs are carried out, that sufficient funds are made available to do so, and that workers at these factories continue to be paid a salary.

To find out more about the bangladesh accord visit: http://www.bangladeshaccord.org/faqs/

4. Summary

The issues in Bangladesh are far from being resolved although the Bangladesh Accord is a milestone for retailers taking responsibility. Whether the signatories achieve their commitments to finance factory improvements and ensure workers rights are observed remains to be seen.

The Rana Plaza tragedy caused a global media outcry and achieved a high level of awareness among consumers of what had previously been a seemingly invisible issue. However, similar tragedies continue to be reported and the industry pressures have not lessened

5. Useful Links

Bangladesh Garment Industry – At a glance

Sustainable Sourcing Matrix: Bangladesh

Bangaldesh fires reinforce pressing need for greater supply chain transparency

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA)

6. References

Motlagh, J 2013 Bangladesh: The Real Cost of Fast Fashion


Image: Rana Plaza survivor

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