Death of hundreds of workers in Bangladesh apparel manufacturing units had caused widespread dismay for some time now. There were major efforts at international level in providing succor to the Bangladeshi apparel workers, apart from plans to help Bangladesh apparel manufacturing units to improve safety standards of their factories. A recent meeting took into account the ground realities and started to work on providing whatever helps was required t0 help the exporters to build up more secure factory safety systems.
However, the moot point is whether Bangladesh losing its luster with garment buyers as ongoing factory safety issues and unrest take their toll? The results of a new survey suggest this could be the case - yet it still remains the country of choice in a sector where price continues to hold sway when it comes to sourcing decisions.
What a lot of difference two years makes to the apparel sourcing landscape. Back in 2011 a survey by McKinsey & Company forecast Bangladesh ready-made garment exports would nearly triple within a decade, propelling the country to an annual growth rate of 7-9% and export value of around US$36-42bn by 2020. But new research released by the consultancy firm seems to suggest perhaps not surprisingly -that the country has lost some of its sheen.
The latest survey of chief purchasing officers (CPOs) in 29 European and US apparel companies with a combined sourcing value of USS39bn, warns of the challenge of shifting production to countries with lower labour costs. And it highlights "recent tragic events" - such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex with the loss of more than 1,100 lives - as among top insecurities surrounding the country.
The executives say they are taking a more cautious view of Bangladesh as a sourcing destination, with nearly one third of them no longer ranking the country as a top-three supplier. Back in 2011, 70% placed it as one of the most likely hotspots over the next five years; but this has now dropped to 47% thanks to "compliance issues and unrest." In other changes in the standing of individual countries, Myanmar/Burma and India have risen up the ratings as places to watch.
The easing of trade restrictions with Myanmar/Burma means 47% of the sourcing professionals now put the country within the top three, while India's standing has risen with 40% of buyers as a beneficiary of the shift from other sourcing countries. But capacity issues are seen as weighing on the potential of Vietnam and Indonesia, while capacity, along with compliance and unrest, have pushed Cambodia's standing as a top-three contender down horn 46% of respondents in 2011 to just 13% in 2013. And it also seems companies have revised their attitude to China as a sourcing destination. Although most companies, especially mid-market players, say they favor moving some of their sourcing away from China; this is now less than indicated back in 2011.
All that said though, Bangladesh still looks set to hold onto its crown as the country with the highest potential for future sourcing for the next years - a trend that is well-evidenced in data from the US, where the country's shipments rose 10.8% to 1.0bn square meter equivalents (SME) in the first seven months of this year, with value gains 0f 9.2% to S2.997bn over the same period.