WASHINGTON — As fashion week got under way in New York, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dipu Moni was in the nation’s capital on Thursday addressing the specter that has been hanging over the fashion industry in the past nine months — working conditions and worker safety.
Moni, in town to speak about Bangladesh’s uncertain political future at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was asked to address the steps her government has taken since the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. fire last November that killed 112 people, and the Rana Plaza Building collapse in late April, which claimed the lives of more than 1,120 people and injured hundreds of others.
The tragedies stoked an international furor, prompting the U.S. to suspend some trade benefits to Bangladesh and prodding the governments of Bangladesh, the U.S. and European Union to collaborate with each other, as well as with retailers, apparel brands, labor rights groups and unions, to improve working conditions and fire and building safety. RELATED STORY: Muhammad Yunus Presses for Change in Bangladesh >>
“What we are [doing] now is to ensure the working conditions are safe, that our workers can enjoy their rights fully. We are working on that very diligently with all of the stakeholders,” Moni said. “We have made considerable progress, but it’s not going to happen overnight. There are many thousands of factories and…the painful inspections of all of these buildings to make sure they are safe is not a task that can be achieved overnight.”
She noted that building codes and safety have been ignored for years as the country dealt with atrocities and corruption stemming from the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
“As a result, we have now ended up with probably a lot of buildings which do not conform to our building codes and as a result are unsafe,” Moni said. “So this is a much larger issue, a much larger problem than just a few factories.”
Several initiatives are under way that will improve the garment industry, Moni said, pointing to the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety for the Ready-Made Garment Sector in Bangladesh, which the International Labor Organization is coordinating with employers, labor and the government. There also are two separate industry plans for Bangladesh building and safety involving scores of European retailers and brands and, separately, a scheme launched by a group of North American retailers and brands.
“So we have undertaken this huge activity now with the industry to identify each and every unsafe building.…At the same time, we have undertaken to increase the number of inspectors, building inspectors, factory inspectors, fire inspectors. We have also enhanced the capacity of our fire brigade. So it’s a multipronged effort that we are now going through,” she said.
Directly addressing the U.S. suspension of duty-free benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences, Moni said the Bangladesh government is “happy the U.S. has come up with a road map, saying let’s work together so that this suspension can be withdrawn as soon as possible and we can have the GSP facility back.”
The U.S. outlined an action plan in mid-July that Bangladesh needs to take to have its trade benefits restored.
Moni noted that the GSP benefits cover only a small portion of Bangladesh’s exports to the U.S. The country’s apparel exports are not part of the GSP program and do not receive duty-free treatment.
“The GSP in the U.S. covers only .05 percent or less of our exports to the U.S. market,” Moni said. “We think it’s important, but it’s also important that we get duty-free, quota-free access to the U.S. market [for apparel]. That would mean that for the [apparel] export figure of about $4 billion, our products would not have to be levied [duties].”
She said the U.S. imposes duties of about $700 million on Bangladesh’s apparel exports.
“If that is not levied, then at least a part of it can go to benefit these workers who are largely poor women in Bangladesh,” Moni said.
A government wage board could soon make recommendations on a minimum wage increase for the garment sector, she added. The current minimum wage is $38 a month, and workers have staged numerous protests in Bangladesh demanding better salaries.
“I believe they will come back very soon with their recommendations, and we are already discussing this with labor leaders and employers as well,” she said.
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast