Covid-19 has created new uncertainties in the footwear industry in Brahmanbaria as the production of all the factories has decreased by an average of 40 percent, causing a financial loss of Tk20 crore to traders and workers.
The footwear industry in Brahmanbaria, with about 3,000 workers at various factories, had been in a slump for several years due to the dominance of foreign shoes on the market.
The footwear business is mainly centered on Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. Then, the big factories market shoes worth a total Tk1-1.5 crore and small factories can market shoes worth an average total of Tk20 lakh.
Factory owners make a profit of a few lakh during the Eid season; while workers earn extra money by working day and night to meet market demand. For this, the factory owners and workers prepare to sell different shoes as per the demand a month and a half before Eid-ul-Fitr.
Wholesalers from different parts of the country–including Dhaka, Chattogram, Cumilla, and Sylhet–come and take the shoes from Brahmanbaria as they made the shoes at comparatively low prices while maintaining the quality.
Each pair of shoes is sold at between Tk60 to Tk400 to wholesalers.
Production drops during Covid-19
Due to Covid-19, the production of every factory has decreased. Before the outbreak of the virus, an average of 900 pairs of shoes was produced every day in large factories, and 400 to 500 pairs in small factories.
However, since the factories opened before Eid-ul-Adha, workers have been making an average of 500 pairs of shoes a day in large factories and an average of 150 pairs in small factories.
However, despite the decline in production, the cost of factory maintenance remains the same. The factory was closed for several months due to lockdown to prevent Covid-19 infections, but the owners had to pay all the costs, including the factory rent. Additionally, all permanent workers and employees were paid their regular salaries.
Large factories have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 epidemic. Many big factories have unsold shoes worth Tk1 crore, that were supposed to be sold on the two Eids. Apart from this, the workers have also been deprived of extra income this season.
Shafiqul Islam, a fitting man of Seven Star Footwear in Pirbari area of Brahmanbaria town, said he supports his family by working at the factory. By doing extra work every Eid, he earns Tk10-15 thousand besides his salary. This money is used for Eid shopping for family members.
However, this time the factory was closed and he had to run his family by borrowing money from relatives.
Another worker, Selim, said the factory is open but there is no work like before. As a result, he is not able to repay the loans he has taken to run the family.
Akhter Hossain, director of Active Footwear, said they make up for the losses of the whole year on the two Eids, but due to Covid-19, he was unable to do any business during Eid-ul-Fitr. After being closed for a long time, shoes worth only Tk20 lakh were sold on Eid-ul-Adha.
"I could not even sell shoes worth Tk1 crore on the two Eids. All the salaries and allowances have to be paid to the workers and employees; including the factory rent and electricity bills. Even if the factory is opened, the production has decreased to half, at present," he added.
Seven Star Footwear Director Md Hanif said, "Our business has been hit hard by the pandemic. If the losses continue, it will be difficult to run the factory. If the factory is closed, the workers and employees will also become unemployed."
Government support is needed to revive the industry
Mohsin Mia, general secretary of the Brahmanbaria Footwear Industry Owners' Association, said, "Our business is already in recession and we need bank loans on easy terms, with government support, to revive ourselves."
"Covid-19-affected traders will be able to borrow from banks at an interest rate of four percent. We will give a loan at a nine percent interest rate. In that case, the government will pay us the remaining five percent interest," said Iqbal Hossain Bhuiyan, president of the Brahmanbaria Bankers Forum and manager of the Brahmanbaria main branch of Sonali Bank Limited.
According to the people involved in the footwear industry, Mahmud Ali, a businessman from Patna, India, first set up a footwear factory in 1963 at the Kumarshil Intersection in Brahmanbaria. At present, there are about 150 small and big factories in different areas of the district including: Pirbari, Rajghar, Natai, and Bhatpara.