International NGO ActionAid, in its new policy report, has called upon the Bangladesh Government to give workers better job alternatives by recognising the limitations of the garment industry and targeting investments towards higher-value added manufacturing industries.
ActionAid's new report 'Diversify and Conquer' focuses on Bangladesh, where the garment industry employs over 3.5 million people – mostly women – on very low wages and in poor conditions.
The clothing industry has long been the focus of high-profile campaigns and media exposés of poor conditions and low wages. These include ActionAid's 2011 campaign for Asda to ensure that living wages are paid and working conditions improved in their supply chains, it said.
When the garment industry boomed in the 1980s, it was seen as Bangladesh's chance of building an industry that could make the country competitive in a global market, in line with neoliberal policies promoting openness and free trade for growth, it said.
But the garment industry is shaped by developed countries, where Bangladesh and others in the developing world can only compete on the basis of cheap labour, and add very little to a product's final value. This limits developing countries' opportunities to innovate or pay better wages and means they get stuck at the bottom of ladder.
Bangladeshi leaders of the 1980s were right to see the industry sector as key for growth – today's developed countries took that same path. But the secret lies in championing manufacturing industries where the value added locally is high, through research and design of new products, or goods made of locally-sourced materials and parts. Two existing industries in Bangladesh, engineering and electronics, have the potential to develop the country's growth to that level; they just need the right government support, ActionAid said.
Higher value industries like these can bring more income to businesses and, with the help of tax policies, more income so that the state can provide greater access to public services like education, health or childcare. A good labour policy can ensure that higher income brings better wages for workers, so there can be a positive development cycle for decades to come, it said. (SH)
Fibre2Fashion News Desk - India