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Dhaka Tribune

The true face of the garment industry

Update : 28 Apr 2013, 08:46 AM

With all the blaming, speculation and misinformation going around, I would like to put in my two cents as a garment manufacturer.

For over 30 years, this industry has been the backbone of development in Bangladesh. It may not be evident now but Bangladesh is where it is today because of the apparel sector. No other industry has employed so many or brought in as much wealth into the country over the last three decades. Every other industry: service, hotels, transportation, and even real estate has developed due to the multiplier effect from the apparel sector. 

From sweatshop conditions we have evolved to manufacturing under international standards. The majority of the facilities have outstanding standards of compliance, employee benefits and conditions. Many exceed international norms. The majority of the workers in the industry are happy, well paid, and well taken care of. This industry would not thrive if that were not true.

However, with the prosperity and the nature of this business allowing for easy entrance for newcomers there has been a surge of fortune seekers and opportunists. This is not uncommon in Bangladesh. We have seen it in stock market manipulations, banking scams, political scandals, etc - this kind of greedy, reckless, brazen raping of the system is rampant in our country and this is made very very easy by the corruption and intentional oversight of the authorities.

The only difference is that they are not playing with people’s lives.

In the garment industry, since so many lives and humans are involved and directly affected, this kind of recklessness is absolutely unacceptable.

Even though this industry is the largest employer and contributor to GDP, we are portrayed as opportunists and slave drivers, but this is not true in a majority of cases. A handful of deviants, getting the most visibility are besmirching this whole industry made up of millions of individuals. Astonishingly, the latest incident was caused not so much due to the garment factories but the bad judgment of a goon who had made lots of easy money and knew nothing about construction and ethics.

Granted that the small factories he rented out his building to also showed very poor judgment. But is it fair to blame the whole industry for the infractions of these fools? Deviants and opportunists exist in every country and every business. See the numerous financial and political scams even in a developed country like the US.

One cannot avoid the human greed factor. However, it can be controlled and discouraged by proper regulations, enforcement, and punishments that need to be doled out. This is severely lacking in Bangladesh.

Rather, our culture of corruption, nepotism, and general looting and plunder of the country by people in power encourages deviant behaviour.

The victims of this dysfunctional system, of course, are the poorest people in the country, paying with their blood, and sometimes their lives. And the apparel industry is the apparent scapegoat. I do not justify by any means what is happening now. The repeated, enormous loss of lives is absolutely heart-breaking. Like everything else that is going on in Bangladesh, it is saddening and sickening.

But I question the judgment of those who are putting pictures of jeans steeped in blood on their Facebook profiles. Without knowing the background or the consequence of their actions, they are defiling an industry that has been one of the key forces in keeping Bangladesh propped up and from falling into a mire of poverty.

I can understand people from outside the country feeling this way about this industry and its practices, but it is unacceptable for our own people to support this image of the apparel sector and upholding the misconceptions of the west.

I am sure there will be many detractors to my sentiments, people who possibly consider themselves conscientious demonstrators but from my viewpoint I feel they are ignorant and recklessly tarnishing the reputation, not just of our industry, but also our country.

I pray for the victims of this tragedy and hope no more lives are lost due to this kind of negligence. Governance in our country needs to improve drastically for this, but for now, the good news is, that behind the scenes there is a lot of work going on both by the authorities and the owners to improve the compliance and proper monitoring of the manufacturing facilities.

Hopefully this will have a positive impact in deterring further incidents although we may not see the results immediately. 

Wasim Rahman is a garment manufacturer.  

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