Less than six months after two tragic fires at apparel factories, global headlines rang out again about worker safety in Bangladesh. The illegally constructed Rana Plaza which collapsed on April 24, killing 410-500 and injuring thousands. The magnitude and proximity of recent events can spur significantly improved health and safety measures throughout the industry's supply chain.
In recent decades, China has undergone a similar reformation, achieving significant growth to become the largest manufacturer, exporter and consumer of garment products in the world. In 2012, 43.6 billion garments were made in China with an export value of $153.2 billion USD. With decades of experience in production management, economic reform,improved working conditions, and a continuous push for technical innovation, China owns the market for good reason. However, retailers looking to compete on price need lower-cost alternatives.
Comparatively, the Bangladeshi garment industry employes approximated 4 million people. and exported $19 billion USD in 2012. The industry is about 12% of the size of China's, but holds the #2 position globally and is steadily growing. Bangladesh has seen significant change in recent years, indicating a continued upward trend for both the economy and living standards:
- The status of women politically, socially and economically has risen.
- In 2010, workers achieved a minimum wage increase of 80 percent to 3000 Takas (about $39 USD a month at today's exchange).
- Recent global attention and demand for better conditions and safety for workers in Dhaka.
Within the supply chain, transparency is also an issue, with some retailers unaware that factories where they are placing their orders are outsourcing to factories elsewhere. A combination of cheaper labour, duty-free imports, and an emerging economy all have contributed to Bangladesh's growth. The additional applied global pressure should help raise standards for quality of their product and life for its citizens.