The theft of readymade garment (RMG) export goods on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway has come up as a fresh blow to apparel makers who are already in a tight spot in this pandemic time because of high prices of raw materials, a fall in product prices in the international market and container logjams at the Chattogram port.
Industry insiders say the incidents of theft have gone up in the last three-four months. Around 10-50% of RMG goods that a truck or covered van carries are being stolen. And, it is detected after products reach buyers. Therefore, exporters find themselves in an embarrassing situation and lose credibility to buyers.
Against this backdrop, leaders of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) met with the home ministry on Monday, seeking measures to stop the stealing of RMG goods during transportation.
According to meeting sources, the highway police has decided to install closed-circuit cameras across the Dhaka-Chattogram highway in the next two to three months. Transport owners, on the other hand, have been instructed to install a GPS tracker in all goods-laden cargo vans to check the theft. Thus, it would be possible to monitor transport movements - when and where they are going.
Besides, a decision has been taken to form a committee comprising exporters, transport owners, police administration and other parties concerned to find a solution to the problem, the sources said.
Exporters say such incidents of theft will reduce the confidence of buyers in Bangladesh.
Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Exporters Association of Bangladesh (EAB), told The Business Standard that it would not be right to downplay thefts of RMG goods. If buyers start losing confidence, there is a risk of losing the clothing market like what happened with shrimp exports.
On 18 March, 15,178 pieces of apparel items worth $83,000 were stolen from a Chattogram-bound transport of a knitwear exporter in Narayanganj. The United States was the importer of the products.
Five days later, 10,000 and 20,100 pieces of clothing items amounting to $80,000 of the same exporter were stolen from two different cargo vans on the highway. The importing countries were Italy and Germany.
After learning about the incidents two months later, the exporter filed a case with Siddhirganj police station.
Similarly, on 5 May, 6,000 pieces of apparel products belonging to an exporter inside Adamjee EPZ, 9,270 pieces of an exporter in Gazipur and 3,000 pieces of an exporter in Ashulia were stolen.
Seeking anonymity, a BGMEA source said about 58,000 pieces of RMG products worth $3 lakh were stolen in seven incidents. Some goods were recovered with the help of transport owners and police after the incidents were known before the shipments left the port.
Rustom Ali Khan, general secretary of the Bangladesh Truck Covered Van Owners Association, told TBS, "We have received more than 50 such complaints of RMG goods theft in the last six months. As we have found out that drivers and helpers are involved in 80% of theft incidents. GPS trackers have already been installed in many of our cargo vans. We will take initiative to quickly install trackers in all the vehicles."
Md Rahmat Ullah, superintendent of police at the Highway Police (Cumilla region), said RMG products are stolen mainly using vehicles on branches of the highway.
He suggested keeping a representative of exporters with cargo vans, installing GPS trackers in the vehicles to stop theft.
The Dhaka-Chattogram Highway is considered the lifeline of the country's export and import activities.
According to the EAB, transportation of about 60% of the country's imported goods depends on the highway.