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Bangladesh Manufacturer Brings Sourcing’s Plight to World Leaders

COVID-19 recovery is on the horizon but the pandemic's impact on sustainability, retail, product development and consumer buying patterns means the denim industry must evolve. Join Rivet on April 20th at 11 am ET for the COVID, One Year Later roundtable.

How much can a single voice catch the ears of harried policy makers? One man in Bangladesh is trying to find out.

“There is a power in it, to bring to attention the suffering in the manufacturing world. It is not about waiting for someone else to do something, but each of us can help,” Mostafiz Uddin told Sourcing Journal, a little over a week into his letter-writing campaign to heads of governments in the Western world.

His missives regarding the plight of his business, his workers, and many others, were sent to leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Netherlands minister for foreign trade and development cooperation Sigrid Kaag.

Uddin, owner and CEO of Denim Expert Limited in Chattogram, Bangladesh, has been outspoken on sustainability and other issues for the industry, and was awarded the Drapers Sustainable Fashion Champion award for 2021 on Wednesday. The award was to recognize the example set in promoting sustainability during the pandemic. He dedicated the honor to H&M, which he said supported his business through the pandemic by continuing to place orders.

Uddin said that he wants to be a game changer in the apparel industry, leading by example to inspire others to behave responsibly and ethically.

“I don’t represent only a small manufacturer in Bangladesh,” he said, “but rather the manufacturing sector across the world—the problems are the same. I am not targeting retailers either, they too are suffering. But while so many services are being kept alive—airlines, airports, supermarkets—the retailers should get some benefit.”

“Things are not okay in the global fashion industry. We saw the Arcadia Group go bankrupt. There will be more bankruptcies. The fact is that if 10,000 people lose their jobs in the UK, this translates to 100,000 in other countries. This is what I am trying to explain to policy makers, to talk about purchasing practices and their impact around the world,” Uddin said.

While President Biden himself is one of the officials who needs to pay heed, there are many in power all down the line, he said.

Stefan Forsbach, a fashion and retail consultant based in Austria, believes that such an appeal can help the industry and observed that Uddin’s letters have been trending on LinkedIn.

Forsbach reiterated the point of the letters, saying that Uddin’s quest for a clear perspective on retail all over the world was laudable.

“We do need a clear strategy on Covid-19 and to reduce the collateral for retail. The collateral is that a lot of retailers went into bankruptcy. What Mostafiz Uddin is doing is not asking for money, or higher prices, not crying for help or criticizing the present situation—just asking the politicians to support the pledge of retailers and to give perspective to those who don’t realize that there are hundreds of workers at the end of the line that are impacted by each decision they make.”

Annetta Bratschi, owner and CEO of Basic Fancy Line, a company based in Holland that manufactures in Bangladesh and sells to retailers across Europe, has been paying attention and agrees.

“My company is more than 30 years old and we have manufactured in Belgium, Tunisia, Mexico, China and now Bangladesh, and I understand the situation for both sides. While health is a priority, the governments have to pay attention to the economic situation as well—they decide when shops close, when cinemas close, when bars close. Retail in Holland has only opened last week, with appointment, for two people in a store. While we did maybe 65 percent of our sales over the previous year in 2020, this year appears to be even more worrying. We also realize the impact on the women who are working in manufacturing countries and are entirely dependent for their basic livelihoods on the way retail functions in other countries,” she said.

In a letter addressed to Germany’s Merkel, Uddin introduced himself as a “small manufacturer from Bangladesh” and that a favorite denim dress in her wardrobe “might be produced by the loving stitches of my workers as my factory Denim Expert Limited has been working with pleasure and pride with some of the popular German brands.” He pointed out that Germany, the second-largest export destination of Bangladesh garments, is a strong source for the well-being of the four million workers employed in the apparel industry in Bangladesh.

“As the stores are closed, the German brands and retailers themselves are struggling to survive. But on their very survival and smooth business hinges the lives and livelihoods of millions of apparel workers in developing countries like Bangladesh. Therefore, I would earnestly request you to consider opening the retail stores in Germany,” the letter stated.

“It is a simple letter,” Uddin said while speaking about his campaign. “But each of us can make a difference. We have to try.”

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