It was really heartening to see the industry resume operations on 26th April, after almost a month’s gap. Even though most of the factories are operating on a limited scale, it’s a positive development none the less.
Considering the Covid-19 scenario in the country and the volume of existing and new work orders, there’s no option for the manufacturers but to run the show on a limited scale by maintaining the safety protocols for workers and the social distancing norms. The largescale order cancellations by the Western buyers defi nitely have had a devastating impact on the industry, adding to which were the demands by brands and retailers for deferred payments.
There have also been reports of some brands asking for signifi cant discounts from their vendors, which emerged as a real big concern for the industry. Recently, Debenhams reportedly demanded a massive 90 per cent discount from its around 40-odd suppliers in the country. What’s more, the company also allegedly owes around US $ 66 million to these vendors.
The implications are now showing up on the export front after the country’s total apparel export in April this year fell to a mere US $ 366.5 million compared to what was US $ 2.42 billion in the same period last year. This means Bangladesh’s apparel exports have taken a nosedive of massive 85 per cent. According to some experts, things are not going to improve much even in the month of May as lots of orders have been cancelled while the volume of new orders are not enough to bring about any substantial change in overall exports and revenue earnings.
However, on the positive part, countries like Sweden, Netherlands and the likes have come forward and decided to stand by Bangladesh in these trying times. They have also assured there will be no order cancellations from the buyers of their respective countries.
But at a time when Coronavirus cases are rising signifi cantly in the country, workers’ health and safety have also emerged as a prime focus area, more so after recent reports that some garment workers have been infected by the deadly virus. The WHO and the BGMEA have already come out with safety guidelines for the factories and most of them are abiding by it. As the apex body of the garment makers in the country, BGMEA has also taken some other steps to ensure that the workers don’t have to bear the brunt of this health crisis. If on one hand it is carrying out inspection of the factories, on the other it has made arrangements for early detection and treatment of the infected workers and appointed two technicians at its Ashulia-based health centre to carry out tests among garment workers.
Irrespective of the steps taken by the BGMEA and the Government, some issues related to workers’ wages apparently still remain unresolved. The Government’s decision to pay 60 per cent wage for the month of April for those who could not work due to the countrywide lockdown and further assurance to adjust additional fi ve per cent in May’s salary have not been able to satisfy some sections of the workers, who are demanding full wages. There have been reports of sporadic incidents of workers’ agitation and even some cases of vandalism, but overall the situation still remains very much under control.
Despite the challenges, it’s really commendable that the industry has been able to get its act together and start work in the right direction. There are some concerns still on the post-pandemic situation, what the experts prefer to be called as ‘New Normal’. Going by the feelers that I have been getting from the stakeholders in the last couple of months, the coming days even if full of challenges, will also offer new opportunities. All we need to do is prepare ourselves and look out for those prospects to make the maximum of the emerging opportunities.