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Publishers Note: On the Ground in Dhaka

At the start of each year I make an annual trip to Asia. This time, my schedule included meetings with factories, agencies and trade authorities in Thailand, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to gain better insight into what is happening on the ground.

Four days before I was scheduled to arrive in Dhaka, the U.S. State Department issued a new travel advisory. My initial thought was to postpone that portion of my trip but all calls made to my contacts in Bangladesh assured me it was business as usual.

I can say first hand, the visa on arrival line was two hours long when I got there and hotel staff weren’t aware of any warning as the occupancy hadn’t changed at all. At every appointment, there were other international brands there doing business and the factories and agencies said they had no appointment cancellations in light of this warning. Many weren’t even aware of the U.S. travel advisory.

And even after the terrorist attacks in Bangladesh over the summer, orders haven’t suffered as a result. A softer retail environment in the U.S. is proving to be much more challenging than these isolated incidents.

I don’t at all mean to imply that I have more insight or perspective on our security than the U.S. government, but from what I saw, business was carrying on as usual in Bangladesh. That said, I still took extra precautions as advised by my local contacts, traveling only from the hotel to my meetings and back, and eating all meals at the hotel, though it seemed foreigners were still frequenting the restaurants there.

Terrorism, by definition, is intended to intimidate, to keep people living in fear. And while we must heed caution, it’s also important to understand the real conditions. Making threats specifically at garment buyers creates fear for a country that relies almost entirely on its exports of ready-made garments.

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Bangladesh doesn’t need any more negative press or reasons for people not to do business there. The country continues to evolve and move up the value chain. For all the negative compliance news it gets, it is interesting to see how many brands are making compliant product in Bangladesh at state-of-the-art facilities, and at the same time, working in places like China at C level factories for its “unregulated” or “unbranded” product.

This recent trip to Bangladesh had me a little more anxious than normal, considering the travel warning. I travel to Bangladesh, on average, four times a year, and this past year was the first time in 10 years we have had to deal with terrorism. And the thing is, I’m not sure where in the world we’re completely safe today. Paris has been faced with terror, as has Orlando. Our own backyards, which may feel like the safest places, have even become targets. The world has become unpredictable and that unpredictability is part of the unfortunate realities we deal with in sourcing, especially for those who produce in countries where conditions are often tense. I wish Bangladesh, its citizens and all those who do business there, a safe and prosperous year.

Edward Hertzman, Sourcing Journal founder and publisher