The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) have reopened 255 export-oriented garment factories in Chattogram, including in three export processing zones (EPZs). Along with 157 other factories, a total of 412 factories are operational in Chattogram. More than one lakh workers have already returned to work. The owners have re-opened the factories amid the rising risks of Covid-19 in the country.
EPZ authorities say work orders from foreign buyers and factories are being opened to continue exports. They say these factories started operating on a limited scale "in compliance with proper hygiene norms."
District Civil Surgeon Sheikh Fazle Rabbi is not convinced that this will not create a risk of infection in workers and employees. He warned that any such gathering would pose a risk of novel coronavirus infection. The doctor said that in order to reopen a factory, strict hygiene rules must be followed.
Meanwhile, the workers are suffering because public transportation is shut. Owners say those living close to the factories have been asked to return to work. However, the industrial police say workers are returning from far and wide. Industrial Police Super, Uttam Kamura Pal, said, "A total of 412 factories are in operation in Chattogram. Of these, 127 factories have been reopened in three export processing zones. These factories are operating at limited capacity. We have been instructed to maintain social distancing and adhere to hygiene rules."
According to industry police, 92 BGMEA factories, 74 factories in the Chattogram EPZ (CEPZ), 28 factories in the Karnaphuli EPZ, 25 factories in the Korean EPZ, 31 BKMEA factories, 5 BTMEA factories and 157 other factories reopened on Sunday. The 412 factories include ready-made garment (RMG) and non-RMG production. There are 711 garment factories and 518 non-RMG factories in Chattogram.
The Chattogram and Karnaphuli EPZs are under the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA). Meanwhile, the Korean EPZ is owned by Youngone Corporation Anwara upazila.
Khurshid Alam, general manager of BEPZA in charge of the CEPZ, said that 74 companies with urgent shipments and ongoing orders have reopened their factories in the country's largest EPZ, the Chattogram export processing area. He said 20 to 25 percent of workers returned to work in those factories on the first day. In all, about 45,000 workers have returned to work. The companies who have orders from Japan and South Korea have reopened their factories.
The Chattogram EPZ has 158 factories – for ready-made garments, tents, electronics, fabric, shoes and other products – and has about two lakh workers. There are about 76,000 workers in 41 factories in the Karnaphuli EPZ. Plus there are about 25,000 workers in the 22 factories of the Korean EPZ.
After the shutdown was extended several times to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, 69 factories in the Chattogram and Karnaphuli EPZs applied for lay-offs.
Mashiuddin bin Mezbah, general manager of the Karnaphuli EPZ, said 25-30 factories in the EPZ approached authorities for a partial reopening as they had export orders. They have been given guidelines to fully comply with hygiene rules. The EPZ authorities will closely monitor whether the factory owners are adhering to the rules.
Meanwhile, Anwara Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO), Sheikh Mohammad Jubayer said Chattogram's only private EPZ, the Korean EPZ, has fully reopened. He said all the workers of the EPZ have returned to work.
A total of 324 factories under BGMEA have reopened in Chattogram. Of these, 20 to 22 companies were in operation due to foreign work orders. An additional 20 to 25 companies were relaunched on Sunday. BGMEA Director Mohammad Atiq, said, "Some of the factories that had been opened earlier were closed again. A total of 40 factories have been reopened, in Chattogram, since Sunday. Those who have shipments pending are reopening factories with limited capacity. However, BGMEA has instructed all the factories to follow the rules and regulations to prevent Covid-19 from spreading."
The Bangladesh Garments Accessories and Packaging Manufacturers and Exporters Association's first vice-president Latifur Rahman Azim also said that BKMEA has reopened nine accessories manufacturing factories in Chattogram.