Rana Plaza still casts shadow on Bangladeshi clothes trade

Rana Plaza still casts shadow on Bangladeshi clothes trade

According to Agrimoney, the Bangladesh’s garment and fabric sector has yet to recover from the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy, with smaller operations closed down due to more stringent labour and safety regulation, US government officials said

The higher standards required by law, and by overseas importers, stalled growth of the Bangladeshi garment industry, which is still poised to overtake China as the world’s largest.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Dhaka bureau reported that “more mills are exiting the business since they cannot meet new labour safety standards, higher quality requirements of certain export markets, or generally compete against larger mills”.

Still, even by the bureau’s lowball estimates, Bangladesh is still set to outstrip China as the top cotton buyer. China imports have tumbled thanks to a subsidy revamp which is channelling demand towards huge domestic stocks. 

The 2013 Rana Plaza disaster saw the collapse of an eight-storey building containing multiple garment factories, among other businesses, with more than 1,100 people killed.

Domestic and international outrage sparked government reforms, with new worker safety legislation introduced in 2015.

And overseas businesses have become more demanding when it comes to worker conditions and safety at their Bangladeshi suppliers.

The USDA’s Dhaka bureau saw cotton consumption in Bangladesh at 5.20 million tonnes in 2015-16.

This is down 650000 tonnes below the USDA’s official estimate.

According to the bureau, this is up from the previous season, by 100000 tonnes, but still falls short of the 2013-14 peak, before the effects of the Rana Plaza collapse started to manifest.

Still, despite a cooling in Bangladeshi growth, it may still be the top cotton buyer this marketing year, after the USDA lowered its estimate for Chinese import demand to a 13-year low of 5.0 million tonnes.

New safety standards

The bureau reported that “more ready-made garment factories and mills have exited the business due to an inability to meet new labour and safety standards, or meet third country quality requirements.

Still, the 2015-16 number is slightly up from the bureau’s estimate of the previous season’s demand, as the sector is “better able to meet export market requirements”.

Yarn and fabric production is seen at 712000 tonnes and 4.3 billion metres, in 2015-16.

This is slightly up from the previous marketing year, but still below 2013-14 peaks.

Yarn and fabric consumption is also seen up, but still behind 2013-14 levels.

Uzbekistan out of favour

The increased scrutiny of supply chains is filtering down to cotton procurement as well.

Bangladesh imports almost of the raw cotton that feeds into the garment industry.

The Dhaka bureau said that Uzbekistani cotton, in particular, was out of favour.

The state-controlled Uzbekistani cotton industry relies on mass mobilisation of citizens in order to bring in the harvest, in a practice that has been widely criticised as a form of slave labour. “Apparently African cotton imports filled any gaps caused by less Uzbekistani cotton,” the bureau said.

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