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Q&A With Denim Manufacturer: Safety & Living Wages In The Bangladeshi Apparel Industry

Q&A With Denim Manufacturer: Safety & Living Wages In The Bangladeshi Apparel Industry

Sewer of Denim Expert Ltd. factory, owned by Mostafiz Uddin

1.    Hi Mostafiz, it was great meeting you at Copenhagen Fashion Summit along with C&A Foundation and H&M in 2018. Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what you are doing.

I am Mostafiz Uddin, an entrepreneur in the apparel industry in Bangladesh. I run my own factory named Denim Expert Ltd., which is a niche denim manufacturing plant located in the port city Chattagram. But I feel more proud to introduce myself as a passionate promoter of Bangladesh’s apparel industry. I have certain vision and philosophy to support the industry to be lifted up to the next level because I believe in its prosperity, and the prosperity will not come until and unless the whole industry is devoted toward sustainability, transparency, and innovation. So, I have devoted myself to promote and inspire these values within the industry and have already launched a number of initiatives like the semi-annual Bangladesh Denim Expo, the Sustainable Apparel Forum (SAF) and the Bangladesh Fashionology Summit (BFS), just to name a few. I am doing these voluntarily and selflessly in addition to my core profession of running my factory. Because I believe that the sum is always larger than the parts of it. If we can make collective and positive changes then everyone in the industry will be benefitted — that’s my belief.

Denim Expert Ltd. factory in Chattagram, Bangladesh, owned by Mostafiz Uddin
Sewing floor of Denim Expert Ltd. factory, owned by Mostafiz Uddin

2.    Why are you promoting the Bangladesh apparel industry in Europe? What is your goal with it?

Its not Europe only but also in other parts of the world where I am trying to promote our apparel industry. Why? Because I love it, because I know the contributions this industry is making to take our country forward from poverty stricken to a middle income country, I know the role this industry is playing as the safest and most transparent industry in the whole world to source some of the most ethical and cleanest clothing in the world and I know it has a huge prospect to service both our nation and the global fashion market. I am passionate to tell Europe the good stories and improvements achieved in Bangladesh apparel industry particularly in recent past years. We still find our industry portrayed as sweatshops still, but rarely highlights that nearly cent percent of our factories are structurally safe, compliant and a good number of them following green manufacturing concept. I think the consumers and buyers in Europe must know the fact not only to appreciate us but also to partner us in this progress through increased business. 

3. Back on April 24, 2013 the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed more than 1100 factory workers. Since 2013 the Bangladesh Accord on fire and safety was established. Please explain what the Bangladesh Accord is and who initiated it. 

One of the silver lining of the darkest Rana Plaza tragedy was the collaboration it ensued among the stakeholders to do safety overhaul in the apparel industry of Bangladesh. A number of European apparel brands initiated Accord in 2013 to ensure fire, structural and electrical safety at all their supplier factories in Bangladesh. The Accord inspected their each supplier factories in Bangladesh and gave corrective action plans. The initiative also monitored progress of the implementation of these plans. Our factories carried out the corrective action plans by investing millions of dollar to ensure international fire, structural and electrical safety standards at the apparel establishments.

4. Since 2018 the Transition Accord took over which is committed to handing over its functions to a national regulatory body, the Government of Bangladesh Remediation and Coordination Cell (RCC). Many European textile companies, which produce in Bangladesh, fear that due to the transition of the accord, Bangladesh does not have sufficient means to carry out proper controls and inspections of the factories and they can not ensure enough safety. So they can not promise 100% fair trade products to the costumer.  Why did Bangladesh want to take over the accord as government?

The government in collaboration with the ILO established Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) as an interim national authority to oversee workplace safety issue in the garment industry once Accord and Alliance are phased out. Eventually, RCC would fold into the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment (DIFE). When the Accord was launched in 2013, it had certain scopes and terms, like it was established for a period of 5 years to ensure fire, electrical and structural safety. It was also agreed on that all stakeholders will support the government of Bangladesh to build capacity so that the national authority can take this responsibility. The government has taken a number of legal, administrative and budgetary reform steps to make it functional. So this is quite obvious to expect that the temporary initiatives will handover their tasks to national authority upon fulfillment of their tenure. There may be questions regarding credibility, but as long as ILO is facilitating the national initiative and RCC, it is indeed the responsibility of the foreign initiatives to empower the national bodies to take care of the safety issues of their own and sustainably. However, the matter lies under the jurisdiction of Honourable Court of Bangladesh, so I refrain from making any comment on this sub judicial matter. 

5. What are the main safety problems and risks of the factories?

As I have already mentioned Bangladesh is now the most safest apparel producing country in the world. However, in any labor intensive factory in the world there are risks of fire and structural safety. For structural issues, we have remediated our factories. On fire issues, our industry is now capable to deal with it with no casualties. But when we discuss about safety risks we often limit the discussions within the manufacturers context. Buying behaviour and pricing could be equally threatening as the absence of safety measures in a factory! Today’s business is not business as usual, so for a responsible supply chain all the actors in it should behave responsibly. 

6. How can Bangladesh ensure that the factory controls are in a good quality? 

The government already formed the RCC to monitor and maintain the safety. As I already said the RCC has to be made prepared and equipped with adequate logistics and experienced professionals. The Bangladeshi professionals who have worked with ACCORD and ALLIANCE can be recruited by the RCC. ILO is involved and facilitating RCC and DIFE. So we may expect responsible behaviour from all. 

7. I saw you on a panel with H&M at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2018. You discussed the living wage for garment workers in Bangladesh. H&M does not pay their garment workers a living wage yet. Why is this so hard to implement? 

The price paid by a customer for a piece of cloth from a brand’s store is actually calculated and distributed by the brand. There a lots of hue and cry for responsible business and living wages across the world, but when it comes to pricing of apparel we still see a race to the bottom tendency. Majority of the customers have the tendency to search for the cheap clothes. Unless this tendency of customers is not changed and unless all the apparel buyers in the world pay for living wage in all sourcing countries, it might not be possible to implement the living wage. 

8. How much money does a garment worker earns in Bangladesh and how much money should the garment worker earn to cover all important costs such as home, food, medicine,…/ living wage. 

The monthly minimum wage for a unskilled garment worker in Bangladesh is US$ 97, whereas a skilled worker earns US$ 200 -250 wage per month here. If over-time is counted the unskilled worker earns around US$ 120, while the skilled one US$ 250 -300 per month. It’s a good income in the context of Bangladesh. We also need to understand the wage and skill grid. A skilled garment worker is well paid.

It should be considered here that Bangladeshi apparel manufacturers are a price takers mostly, they are not price makers. The more brands will pay for apparel products sourced from Bangladesh the better Bangladeshi apparel manufacturers could pay their workers. Unfortunately, unit prices for apparel imports to the US from Bangladesh fell by 7 percent between 2014 to 2018 and 3.6 percent to the Europe over the same period. Nevertheless, the minimum wage of Bangladeshi garment workers was increased by 380 percent in last 8 years.

9. Do you know what big European fashion companies do to support the Bangladesh garment industry for good? Is there anything you would wish they should support more? 

See Also

Bangladesh apparel industry has made commendable strides in safety and sustainability. The country is most safest in the world now. Moreover, there are 82 green garment factories in the country certified LEED by the United States Green Building Council and 320 factories have registered for the LEED certifications which is a telltale evidence of Bangladesh’s steady stride towards sustainability. So, the brands should come forward to recognize the good jobs. They should recognize by sourcing more from Bangladesh and giving better price. This way of recognition and reward can support the Bangladesh apparel industry for more good.

Our factories have invested millions of dollars for safety upgrade in their factories. Moreover, the charge of regularly maintaining safety standards is also added to the production cost. On the other hand production is rising due to increase in minimum wage and utility prices. From where will they get the additional cost of doing business other than product prices? I think here brands and buyers should come forward and work on with the factories to address the issue through partnership as it is a shared responsibility to make the industry sustainable. Responsible sourcing and pricing, and supporting the industry to upgrade itself technologically and upscaling its capability to service the niche markets would be tremendous help. 

10. Do you know why European textile brands do not own any factories in Bangladesh?

There are number of FDIs and JVs from Europe operating in Bangladesh’s apparel sector. There are instances of strategic partnerships between brands and supplying factories. Yet there may be difficulties from brands end to manage manufacturing and invest offshore, and there are some policy rigidness as well to allow foreign investments in manufacturing traditional apparel items. 

11. How do you see the future of the Bangladesh garment industry in connection to the European brands? 

I see a very bright future. The European brands I believe can rely on Bangladesh as a safe and sustainable apparel sourcing destination considering the country’s good work in safety and sustainability. We are investing more in cleaner production, innovation and value-added capacity. Based on a solid foundation of 40 years relationship, I think the confidence of European brands will help build long term and sustainable business relations that will be mutually beneficial for both the parties.

Mostafiz Uddin

Questions were asked by our founder Antonia Böhlke. Do you have any additional questions which we should ask Mostafiz? Please leave your comment on Instagram @mochni_com.