WASHINGTON — A delegation from Bangladesh led by Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed visited here last week and met with calls for more business transparency and better working conditions in the Asian nation’s apparel industry.
The visit by the 10-member delegation — which included the presidents of the two important garment federations in Bangladesh, the fire chief, as well as factory owners, and a trade union leader — was seen as a crucial step forward after a difficult year in which a flurry of activity has taken place in the industry.
“It is a fact that we have taken a lot of action,” Ahmed told WWD, having flown in for a five-day trip to the U.S. for negotiations and a sharing of perspectives. He came directly from Beijing, fresh from an agreement with the Chinese government for a $3 billion investment in a garment park in Bangladesh, which he said would provide 300,000 jobs in the apparel sector. The garment industry in Bangladesh employs 3.8 million workers, 80 percent of whom are women. Bangladesh is the second-largest exporter of garments in the world, after China.
While there are differences between the industry’s stakeholders — with the factory owners, the government and labor holding different edges of the same cloth — the delegation maintained a cohesive front. Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said factory owners were being more open to the process of securing greater safety in their factories and the fact that trade unions needed to be allowed. “The process of change is on,” he said, reiterating the government’s position.
Over discussions with Congressman Sander Levin, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, U.S. Associate Deputy Undersecretary Eric Biel, Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Cathy Novelli and several retailer associations, different aspects of the industry’s progress came up for review.
In Ahmed’s meeting with assistant secretary of State for South Asia Nisha Desai Biswal, a variety of topics of bilateral and regional interest came up, although discussions focused on increasing bilateral trade. They also included a focus on improving the health and safety of workers and safeguarding workers’ rights.
Despite the many changes in the last 14 months, it was obvious the process is a work in progress.
As Levin said, a day after his meeting with the delegation: “There seems to be significant progress, but there is still much left to be done.” He said that although safety issues appeared to be improving, there was a “sharp contrast” with what needed to be done for the protection of workers’ rights.
Responding to the contention that more than 160 trade unions had been registered over the last year, compared with eight in previous years, Levin said, “Registration is one thing, but giving workers their rights is quite another.”
He expressed concern over the “evidence of increased violence and the failure of the government to respond to this increasing violence as workers try to organize.”
The delegation included Sukkur Mahmud, president of the Jatiya Saramik League, who represented the workers and who expressed his satisfaction that things were improving substantially, in terms of the implementation of the amendment of the labor law allowing the formation of trade unions as well as a wage increase for workers.
Mesbah Rabin, managing director in Bangladesh for the Alliance for Worker Safety, who also was part of the delegation, said 90 percent of the factory inspections had been completed by the alliance. He pointed out that giving workers a voice was part of the change, with a hotline set up in more than 50 factories so that workers could have direct access for help. He said the government was in the process of implementing a similar hotline.
The retailer associations — including the National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association and the American Apparel & Footwear Association — brought up some of their own concerns, which the delegation addressed: That the trade unions still had a long way to go; that the plan to hire inspectors for factories was moving along slowly, but was happening, and that factory owners who had been chided for not being serious enough about installing better safety equipment were indeed beginning to see the necessity for change.
Rabin pointed out that “as for the complaints that some remediation is slow, some of the sophisticated fire technology is unheard of in the country; sprinkler systems, for example, are not manufactured in the country.”
Islam agreed. “It will take some time, but within one year things will change radically. Some of the factories that have closed will move to new areas, that is also part of this change,” he said.
The delegation arrived in Washington after meetings in Las Vegas at the National Fire Protection Association convention, to look at how the problems facing factory owners can be resolved — sprinklers are being introduced in factories along with fire doors and other requirements. Some of these were part of the Bangladesh Building Code, but had not been implemented over the years. “These problems have not been resolved, but they are not insurmountable,” Brigadier General Ali Ahmed Khan, director general, Fire Service and Civil Defence, told WWD.
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews