Bangladesh garment production, Out of poverty
"When the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed two years ago today and killed more than 1,130 people outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, a harsh global spotlight suddenly shone on the country’s garment industry, which had quietly been making more and more of the world’s cheap clothes for years.
That spotlight showed an industry in chaos, rife with horrifically unsafe conditions, corruption, shoddy oversight, low wages, and child labor. Apparel companies including the Walt Disney Company have reacted to such disasters by pulling their business out of Bangladesh. But that does nothing to improve the lives of workers there, many of whose livelihood, meager as it is, depends on the garment business.
As the Bangladeshi journalist Zafar Sobhan wrote after an earlier catastrophe, a fire at the Tazreen Fashions garment factory outside Dhaka that killed 112 workers in 2012, “it is this dehumanizing, soul-destroying, exploitative trade that has provided employment to over 3 million impoverished Bangladeshis, the vast majority of them women, and utterly transformed the economic and social landscape of the country. In the 40 years since independence, the poverty rate has plummeted from 80 percent down to less than 30 percent today, GDP growth has averaged around 5-6 percent for over 20 years, and the garment industry has had a lot to do with it.”
Indeed, many in the international development community refer to Bangladesh as a success story, having rightfully shed its “basket case” status to excel in areas such as gender equity and healthcare, and even to outshine its much richer neighbor, India. Bangladesh’s industrial revolution, supported in large part by garment manufacturing, is fueling a social one too.
But even those who applaud the societal change that Bangladesh’s garment industry has helped bring about acknowledge that the sector’s safety regulations and protections for garment workers remain nowhere near sufficient. The thing that makes Bangladesh’s garment industry so huge is the same thing that makes it dangerous—and difficult to fix.
It’s just so cheap.
In the past decade, Bangladesh’s production share of the world’s cheap clothing has skyrocketed.
In 2013, Bangladesh exported nearly $31 billion of goods overall—nearly twice what it did just four years earlier in 2009—according to data from the International Trade Centre. About 90% of that value, some $28 billion, came from clothes. It is the world’s second-largest garment exporter, and its share of the global closet just keeps growing."