Even as global brands and retailers have reiterated their commitment to working with the fashion industry in Bangladesh after last week’s terrorist attack that killed 20 hostages, concern flared again on Thursday as a bombing killed three people just outside Dhaka.
As the city prepared for prayers on the occasion of the Eid-ul-Fitr festival day, which marks the end of a month of fasting for Ramadan, the attackers killed two policemen and one civilian at Sholakia Eidgah, a prayer ground where more than 120,000 people had gathered, according to police officials. Ten other people were seriously injured.
Police officials told WWD that security arrangements had been stepped up considerably after the hostage crisis on Friday at the Holey Artisan Bakery in the upscale neighborhood of Gulshan. Nine Italians, seven Japanese, one American, and an Indian national were killed in the attack in which terrorists were overtaken by the commando force after a 12-hour standoff.
While the Islamic State, or ISIS, has taken responsibility for Friday’s incident — which it followed up with a video allegedly released on YouTube on Wednesday saying that the attack at the café was “just a glimpse” and would be followed by more such attacks in Bangladesh and across the world — there is no indication that attack is linked to Thursday’s bombing.
The U.S. State Department has also issued a travel warning on Bangladesh, urging Americans to “carefully consider the risks of traveling there” in the wake of what the agency called a “series of terrorist events.”
“The U.S. government assess that the terrorist threat is real and credible,” the agency said in an alert. “U.S. citizens should take stringent security measures, remain vigilant and be alert to local security developments.”
U.S. government officials and their families are currently prohibited from visiting public places in Bangladesh and traveling on foot, motorcycle, bicycle, rickshaw or any uncovered public sidewalks and thoroughfares. In addition, they cannot attend large gatherings in the country.
Bangladesh has seen a string of incidents over the last two years in which more than 30 bloggers, writers, social activists and members of religious minorities have been attacked and killed. In previous years, the country has also been torn by election-driven violence and transport strikes.
In September, an Italian citizen and aid worker in Bangladesh, Cesare Tavella, was shot dead and the Islamic State claimed responsibility. However, police officials later charged seven people for the murder, including Abdul Quayum, a senior opposition leader, de-linking the incident from the Islamic State.
Meanwhile, the garment business has continued to grow in Bangladesh, having reached $27.3 billion in June, according to government officials, up from last year’s $24.5 billion.
Bangladesh is the second-largest garment exporter in the world, after China. The industry employs more than four million workers.
This week, as many buyers have canceled or postponed their trips after the ISIS attack last Friday, it appears the industry may soon hit another roadblock. “The perception that Bangladesh is a potential terrorist hot spot can seriously hit our export potential and growth prospects,” said Ahsan Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute.
Rubana Huq, managing director of the Mohammadi Group, expressed a similar sentiment in a comment last year when she wrote, “It’s the Westerners’ fears of the apparent deterioration of the law-and-order situation of the country that will dash all our hopes for the garment industry.”
Officials of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said this week they believed the industry would work to improve security and address the situation.
In a press conference just before the Eid holiday, Siddiqur Rahman observed that some major retailers had contacted the organization and said they would not pull their business from Bangladesh. The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, for example, a consortium of 26 global brands and retailers including The Gap Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., expressed their condolences to the bereaved and said on Wednesday they would continue to work on safety for their teams.
“While each individual member company of the Alliance is responsible for their own global sourcing decisions, the Alliance will stay the course in Bangladesh despite this unspeakable tragedy. We believe improving safety for the millions of men and women who make a living in Bangladesh’s garment sector is a moral imperative — and while we are taking steps to ensure the safety of our staff and contractors, our work to improve safety in garment factories will continue,” the Alliance said Wednesday, before the latest bombing.
BGMEA’s Rahman noted that every effort would be made in the coming weeks to help the garment industry maintain its growth trajectory.
“We have faced some challenges in recent years like the Rana Plaza collapse and frequent shutdowns due to political crisis. We have overcome those challenges with our skills and resilience,” he said.