Bangladesh’s attraction for overseas garment retailers has much to do with its low cost of labor, but after a deadly fire at Tazareen Fashions factory last November, garment manufacturers and exporters are under pressure from both activists and stakeholders. Sector leaders have now called for higher prices on foreign-bought Bangladeshi goods, which would lead to increased worker wages and improved factory safety.
While the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) insists that the majority of garment-producing factories are in compliance–both with safety and wage requirements–its Senior VP, Nasir Uddin Chowdury, told Financial Express that “overseas buyers should pay us more so that we can invest more for making the factories fully compliant with safety rules and enhance wages of the workers.”
It’s yet to be seen how foreign buyers will respond to these demands. The Bangladeshi apparel and industry, which exports nearly $19 billion worth of goods, or 80% of the nation’s exports, has been plagued by inconsistent electricity and gas supplies, poorly maintained roads and highways, and a tenuous political infrastructure. Despite these problems, cheap labor costs have kept the nation competitive with other big exporters. In 2011, Bangladesh became the second largest exporter of Ready Made Garments (RMGs), second only to China.