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Bangladesh Will Boost Exports, Improve Worker Safety With Garment Villages

They say it takes a village to raise a child; the same will soon be said for improving garment worker safety in Bangladesh.

Speaking recently at the Bangladesh Apparel & Safety Exposition, commerce minister Tofail Ahmed said the southeastern port city of Chittagong will get a “garment village” to help the country hit its global export goal of $50 billion by 2021.

A similar hub—funded by a state-owned Chinese firm—is currently under construction in the southern-central village of Bausia, where more than 200 factories are expected to export up to $5 billion worth of goods each year and workplace, health and fire safety regulations will be enforced. Facilities for medical treatment, proper waste disposal and daycare will be available, too, and factories in the area that don’t currently comply with guidelines will be moved to the village.

According to The Daily Star, Nasiruddin Ahmed Chowdhury, first vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said it would not be possible for the country to meet its export target without a comparable set-up in Chittagong, the “gateway for Bangladeshi exports.”

The garment industry currently makes up 82 percent of the country’s total exports. Since the Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013 that killed more than 1,100 people, more than two-thirds of the country’s garment factories have been inspected and the BGMEA has said that many small factories that can’t afford the required renovations are at risk of shutting, thus jeopardizing the country’s export goals.

While easy access to low-cost loans could help the situation, are hubs where a close eye can be kept on worker welfare a safer bet? Time will tell.