Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi on Saturday called for raising voice about apparel price, alleging that the country’s RMG sector is not getting fair prices in the global market.
“After the corona pandemic, the Bangladeshi apparel sector is internationally being deprived of fair price—a very important issue that should get more focus,” Tipu Munshi said.“All should put more attention to it. Everyone should be vocal about it and we should discuss the issue more,” he added.
For example, he said the price of a $15 Bangladeshi apparel item last year has come down to $12 in the international market this year.
“In these circumstances, survival has been very difficult for the RMG sector. It may sound like factory owners’ words. Despite that I would say the issue should be put in front for sake of the apparel industry,” said Tipu Munshi, also a seasoned businessman who has 35 years of experience in apparel exports.
The minister said this while addressing a virtual dialogue on “Corporate Accountability of the RMG Sector in view of COVID Pandemic: Challenges in Ensuring Workers’ Well-being.”
Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Shojag Coalition jointly organised the event marking the 8th Anniversary of Rana Plaza Tragedy.
Commerce minister said some 10 million people including 4 million workers are directly or indirectly dependent on the RMG sector that generates 84 per cent of the country’s total exports. “We’re largely dependent on this sector.”People were in fear in the wake of Rana Plaza incident, but Bangladesh has turned around and its RMG sector is now on even a stronger footing in terms of removing child labour and ensuring minimum wage.
He also stressed owners-workers concerted efforts in ensuring more workers’ rights.
A CPD study unveiled Saturday suggests that many factories linked to RMG exports did not get loans from the stimulus packages as they were not affiliated with BGMEA or BKMEA.
The study shows that 67.60 per cent of factories applied for the loans of which 62.70 per cent got support, while 17.60 per cent of factories had no eligibility for the loans application and 12.70 per cent did not apply despite having the eligibility.
CPD suggested creating loan facilities for all export-oriented factories after it found that only BGMEA and BKMEA affiliated factories could not benefit from the stimulus deals.
The think tank conducted the study on 102 RMG factories in Dhaka and Gazipur covering 76.5 per cent large factories and 23.5 per cent small factories. It also surveyed 301 active workers and 100 jobless workers.
30 per cent RMG workers have said their workload has increased during the pandemic, while 22 per cent alleged that they have faced different types of harassment.
Many workers alleged that they are in fear of being blacklisted if they bargain with their owners about their rights.
Many were compelled to cut their food expenses, use savings and increase borrowing as their family income dropped even after their salary hike.
CPD calls for strengthening corporate accountability in the RMG sector to ensure workers’ well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A large section of enterprises which are small and non-members of BGMEA but engaged in the RMG value chain needs to be brought on board to practice corporate accountability,” CPD’s research director Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem said while presenting the study highlights.
All RMG workers were not supported by the stimulus packages. Workers laid off or retrenched during the COVID pandemic in 2020 only received part of the benefits.
Some 21.4 per cent of factories could not pay anything to the retrenched workers. The majority of workers were laid off during the first phase of COVID (April-May, 2020) when enterprises received government support to pay workers’ wages with the condition that no workers would be laid-off or retrenched, the study said.
Exemptions permitted to the application of the Bangladesh Labor Act allowing for an increase in working hours raised concerns about high pressure on workers (section 324, 100, 102 and 105).
While such exemptions can be used for a limited period, the exemption periods were extended, which is also a concern.
Brands or buyers were generally not responsive about the issue of workers being retrenched or laid off from their partner factories, according to the study.
Only 14.7 per cent of factories received requests from brands not to lay off or retrench workers, 1 per cent of factories indicated that the concerned brands agreed to accommodate related costs for not laying off workers. Transparency and disclosure are the least developed areas with regard to corporate accountability in RMG enterprises, CPD said. Only a small section of enterprises claimed that they disclose factory related information (40 per cent) and financial support from the government (21.6 per cent), or publish g annual reports (41 per cent).
Unemployed workers received a limited amount of support from the government (21 per cent) and NGOs (20 per cent).
As Labour Courts did not function in 2020 and 2021 during the lockdown and did not hold any virtual hearings, workers lacked access to legal protection, the study also suggests. BGMEA president Faruque Hassan, Barrister Sara Hossain, honorary executive director of the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST, Advocate Montu Ghosh, president, Garments Workers’ Trade Union Centre, BKMEA’s first vice-president Mohammad Hatem, CPD’s Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun, Christian Aid Bangladesh Country Director Pankaj Kumar, Kalpona Akter, Executive Director, Bangladesh Center for Workers’ Solidarity (BCWS) and BGMEA director Abdullah Hil Rakib addressed the dialogue moderated by CPD’s Distinguished Fellow Prof Mustafizur Rahman.