The ongoing lockdowns in the sourcing countries might push the Bangladeshi garments workers into a humanitarian crisis as the apparel factories are already running at below the breakeven cost due to lack of orders.
If fashion stores in the importing countries do not reopen for business immediately, hundreds of thousands people involved in the apparel industry might lose jobs resulting in a sharp rise in poverty, said Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE) and Bangladesh Denim Expo CEO Mostafiz Uddin in an open letter to governments of the EU countries, the UK and the US.
Mostafiz, also managing director of Denim Expert Limited, a Chattogram EPZ-based denim garment and washing plant, implored the trading partners to consider the impact the lockdown is having on the millions of workers in their supply chains, reports textile industry news website Just-style.
In the letter, Mostafiz said, "I am writing this open letter to flag certain aspects relating to Bangladesh and its trading partners in Europe, UK, and the US – and beyond. This letter is aimed at government ministers in the key trading partners of Bangladesh.
"We are all aware of the ways the coronavirus has significantly altered the trading landscape and consequently orders have inevitably been reduced to Asian garment manufacturing hubs, such as our own in Bangladesh.
"Yet, for apparel manufacturers in Bangladesh, the situation has now reached a critical stage. The continuing lockdowns in Europe, UK, and the US – our main trading partners – are killing industry in Bangladesh, leading to hundreds of thousands of job losses, sharp rises in poverty, and destitution for young women who rely on this industry as a lifeline. Literally, hundreds of factories in the industry are dying; and most of those may never come back to operation.
"Many countries in Europe, UK, as well as the US, closed fashion stores before Christmas. Those are yet to re-open. Meanwhile, I understand, many other stores remain open – even some that might be deemed non-essential.
"While it is absolutely a matter of sovereign choice of any government and state, I wonder if the consequences in a far-away place called Bangladesh impacting the existence of millions of poor people who form an essential part of the supply chain ending would merit consideration?
"Given the complexity and seriousness, I may most humbly urge governments in the UK, US, and Europe to reconsider the current stance on the closure of fashion stores, as a matter of urgency. Many stores, I am told, have implemented major safety changes, including one-way systems for customers. As suppliers, we are confused as to why they remain closed in these circumstances.
"While I do understand the urgency to fully contain the impact of the deadly virus, I may humbly underline that, in Bangladesh, the impact of the virus is deadlier in its own way. For certain, so many of our workers, largely female, stand to slide rapidly to a complex web of poverty – inequality – vulnerability. These young women are hugely dependent on apparel exports to stores in Europe and beyond.
"If things slide further for Bangladesh, I have grave concerns about a humanitarian crisis. Ready-made garments is our major export – we are more than 80% dependent on garment exports. We have had 12-months of the tap being turned on and off for this export and it is, quite literally, ruining us. I have grave fears if apparel stores remain closed through spring and beyond."
Mostafiz has been hugely critical of the actions of the western brands and retailers during the Covid-19 crisis, the damage they likely to be inflicted on future buyer-supplier relationships, and the impact on millions of garment workers around the world.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau, Bangladesh have witnessed 3.79% negative growth to $21 billion in apparel export during the July-February period of 2020-21 fiscal year compared with the same period of last fiscal.
A year ago the apparel sector export performance was $21.84 billion.
The sector employs around 4 million people in the country.