Matters appear to be coming to another uncomfortable impasse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, as sources said the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer and Exporters Association decided to withdraw from the steering committee of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety after an emergency meeting on Saturday.
This story first appeared in the July 14, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Local media reports quoted officials as saying that if they cannot criticize the Alliance, as per the agreement of the BGMEA joining, then the group will not stay on the committee.
But BGMEA officials contacted Monday denied the group had withdrawn from the steering committee. They said that the meeting to make the decision had been deferred.
Yet several sources said BGMEA president Atiqul Islam will resign from the steering committee in the coming week.
The Alliance is a group of more than 26 brands and retailers, mostly from North America, including Wal-Mart and Target, who have been working to ensure factory safety in Bangladesh after the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza in April 2013. The building housed five garment factories, and more than 1,100 garment workers were killed in the collapse.
Since then, garment manufacturers, the Bangladesh government and global retailers and brands including the Alliance and the Accord – a separate group that includes more than 200 international brands and retailers – have been working together to ensure factory safety in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is the second-largest exporter of garments in the world, after China, and the $24.5 billion export industry provides jobs to more than 4 million workers, mostly women.
Over the last few months, resentment has been growing among factory owners about a changing focus in the Alliance and the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety to the issue of training of labor in factories and the formation of occupational safety and health committees for workers.
On June 19, the Alliance criticized a comment by finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith about the activities of the Alliance and the Accord, which translated roughly as a “noose around the neck of the garment industry.”
“I am truly shocked that a member of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet would criticize efforts aimed at enhancing safety in the ready-made garment sector, which employs more than 4 million women and men and is one of the largest contributors to Bangladesh’s growing economy,” Ellen Tauscher, independent chair of the Alliance, wrote in a letter. “I am hopeful that the government of Bangladesh will clarify its position and demonstrate unequivocal support for the Alliance and other initiatives working to improve the safety of its people and the sustainability of its economy.
“Comments like those attributed to the finance minister and other officials in Bangladesh raise serious and significant concerns about the commitment of the government to this unprecedented and private sector-led and funded safety initiative,” she said.
Although BGMEA officials have often praised the Alliance for including them in the steering committee, enabling faster and more comprehensive decisions that are inclusive of the interests of factory owners, it appears that the time to settle differences has come upon the different parties once again.
Meanwhile, BGMEA elections are to be held Sept. 8 for all 35 posts of the board of directors. The elections are being watched closely as the organization remains the center of decision-making in the nation’s apparel industry.