Employers are uniting with workers in a turn of events in Dhaka.
This story first appeared in the December 9, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Faced with continuous blockades and a situation that employers say is “far more serious and dangerous” than the frequent hartals or shutdowns that have been part of life in Dhaka, employers and executives, including many of the leaders of the garment employers organizations, came together Saturday to give political parties an ultimatum.
In a protest, the businessmen held hands to make a human chain outside the offices of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer and Exporters Association. In addition to the BGMEA, the protest included representatives of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, as well as workers who fear that their jobs are in danger.
BGMEA president Atiqul Islam said that the losses in terms of shipments alone were about $515 million in the first nine months of the year, with companies being unable to get their shipments to the port city of Chittagong and turning to air shipments to meet their deadlines. In the past three weeks, the situation has grown far more serious as the 18 party opposition, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, gave an ultimatum to the ruling Awami League that they would not accept or participate in the general election set for Jan. 5.
Police officials estimated that there have been more than 50 deaths in violence related to the elections and the recurring blockades in the last six weeks.
Garment leaders told WWD that they had been repeatedly counseling both parties to come to an agreement before the economy of the country was ruined. Bangladesh is the second biggest exporter of garments in the world, after China, and the $22 billion industry is key to the economy.
“We are being faced with a cancellation of orders,” said Islam, “and if we cannot meet our shipments we will not be able to pay worker salaries. Who is going to take responsibility for all of this?”
The high-level protestors have given the government five days to come to a consensus. Otherwise they will join hands with workers and members of the supply chain to protest further if the country was not “saved from dirty politics,” they said.
Garment workers told WWD on Sunday that they feared going to work as protestors resorted to increasing violence and deaths were occurring throughout the city. The blockades across Dhaka have been called for 72 hours at a time and left only Friday in the last week as a day when movement was allowed.
This was especially to accommodate Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, assistant secretary general of the United Nations, whose visit to Bangladesh was being watched carefully in the hope it would help bring the political impasse to an end.