Apparel makers have demanded keeping the readymade garment sector out of the purview of the countrywide "strict" lockdown starting 14 April as they fear factory closure would put the sector in risks such as export order cancellation.
There are concerns over payment of workers' salary and bonus. Also, sending several lakhs of workers back home will fuel up the virus spread, said the manufacturers at a joint press briefing in Dhaka Sunday.
In the wake of resurgence in Covid-19 infection and death, the government on Friday announced a complete weeklong lockdown from 14 April.
Followed by the announcement, leaders of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) and the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) and the Exporters Association of Bangladesh (EAB) jointly held the media briefing.
While speaking at the press conference, BGMEA acting president Abdus Salam cited the health safety measures they had taken up at the factories last year.
"Due to our timely action and strict implementation of the safety guidelines, it was possible to keep the infection among textile and garment workers at 0.03%," he noted.
Abdus Salam said they fear workers may leave the city in droves from the first day of the lockdown – which would trigger the spread of infection across the country. Besides, the return of workers to the factories after the lockdown may also face uncertainty.
Salam thinks both the workers and the industry will face an uncertainty due to the lockdown, especially since the factories have just started to turn around, offsetting the virus fallout from the first wave of the pandemic and there is a pressure of paying the salaries and bonuses ahead of Eid.
"The textile and garment sector and related industries are a part of the international supply chain. If the chain is disrupted, there will be shipping and container congestions and other issues at the Chattogram port, which will drag down the industry for the next couple of months," he said, adding Bangladesh may lose markets to its competitors if the apparel factories are closed during the lockdown.
Referring to price falls of garment items even before the pandemic, he said the situation intensified in the pandemic.
Salam said they lost around $6 billion in exports in the fiscal 2019-20. "The crisis is serious especially in the woven sector as its exports decreased 17.62% in the first nine months of the current fiscal year," he noted.
"In addition, 1,150 Bangladeshi companies lost $3.18 billion in order cancelation and suspension by the end of April 2020. In December last year alone, retail sales fell by 28% in European market and 16% in the United States," said Abdus Salam.
Speaking at the programme, BTMA President Mohammad Ali Khokon said textile mills currently have export orders of around $4 billion. Besides, they have readied $2.5 billion dress materials and fabrics for the Eid market and Zakat season.
"If the sector faces the lockdown now, the loss will be around Tk54,000 crore – which cannot be retrieved in any way," claimed Khokon.
BGMEA president-elect Faruque Hassan said they want the government's cooperation to keep the factory open.
He said no factories in India and Vietnam – two major competitors of Bangladesh in garment exporting – are closed during this pandemic.
In the meantime, Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Exporters Association of Bangladesh, said if the next three months are crucial for export order confirmations. If Bangladesh loses those, other countries will take the orders.
Leaders of the Bangladesh Terry Towel and Linen Manufacturers, the Exporters Association and Bangladesh Garments Accessories and the Packaging Manufacturers and Exporters Association were also present at the press conference.