The European Politics Blog

 

The textile industry in Bangladesh has been a source of income for the poor for many years now, forming a part its fast growing economy. Textile exports continue to be the primary foreign exchange earnings resource, for this $19 billion-a-year industry employing somewhere around 4mn people, many of which are women.

The apparel export industry in the country is second only to China at the moment, with a good share of European and American buyers, as well as a minute foreign-investors owned factories. Factually-speaking, 60 percent of apparel exports come to Europe from Bangladesh, with the remaining 40 percent going to the United States of America.

In an age of recession and limited available foreign aid to dedicate towards developing countries, the encouraging growth of the textile industry has been looked upon as a positive development because it contributes to the economy as well, when a supportive foreign infrastructure is in place to support the initiative.

Controversial decisions over engaging in child labour has marred the once-struggling industry in the country, and there should be alternative measures put in place to tackle this. Children belong in school and deserve an education, not in employment services this young. As a result, in order to address the gap in the employment workforce, it’s crucial to increase participation of women in the industry.

Not only would this break the shackles that bind together the possibility of high employment figures for women, through narrow rural farming choices, and issues with social-mobility for women migrants from rural areas, it would also further highlight the important contribution that women make in Bangladesh’s economy.

Female labour in the country is both cheap and flexible and this is another reason why employment figures can increase substantially as the economy begins to develop. Following a tragical factory collapse incident in Dhaka last year, 150, mostly European, companies signed an accord to mend fire, electrical and building safety standards in the factories. The CEO of Benetton Group was quoted in response to this as saying,

“We are constantly working to strengthen the measures in place in the markets we operate,

This agreement foresees…a joint systems of inspections, training and financial commitments specific to Bangladesh and necessary to build a sustainable garment industry.”

Early inspection reports, which has already shut down plenty of underperforming factories, have revealed a scarce number of fire exits, sprinkler systems, dangerous practices, such as exposed electrical cables and key structural issues, ranging from overloaded ceilings to extra stories housing the factories. Meanwhile the ILO Deputy Director General Gilbert Houngbo, has stated,

“A lot of groundwork had to be done

There will be some expensive costs, and we need to put in place some kind of financing mechanism.”

Workers rights issues are being addressed slowly and steadily. For example, a new labour-law introduced in mid-2013 now permits workers to form a trade union, without requiring approval from factory owners, which has seen the number of registered unions grow substantially from the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

The textile industry is crucial to the national economy and without it, there would be a large-scale economic collapse, because poverty still reigns high in the country. Many young Bangladeshi women because of employment are often rescued from underage marriages, which sadly still prevail in the country.

Somewhere around 60percent of women get married before they turn the legal age of 18, some of them through dowry payment exchanges, where horrifically, a higher payment is made upon how young and attractive the bride is. Apart from this, the conservative Muslim code in Bangladesh often restricts freedom for women, and employment for them, drives this away.

There has been a national outcry over the minimum wage standards in Bangladesh, which is significantly less in comparison to textile workers in other more affluent neighbouring nations. But wages can only increase as the economy improves, and recruiting more women, who are emerging as the sole providers of many families income-wise, is a positive step towards this because they are known to provide cheap labour as it is.

As difficult as it is a job to balance workplace safety and wages for textile workers in Bangladesh, as the economy continues to grow on the back of a strong economy, driven by the textile export sector nationally, wages are sure to increase as well.

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