I am currently working on the following paper which covers an important and interesting issue in the context of Bangladesh.
The apparel industry is the most important contributors for the economy of Bangladesh in terms of export revenue, employment generation and poverty alleviation. Although the industry boasts rapid growth and good prospects, its future has been thrown into doubt because it is often reported for industrial accidents by international media which question the welfare of apparel industry workers and their working conditions. The collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013, one of the worst industrial accidents in the history of industrialization, resulted in the loss of over 1200 lives and happened just months after a fire in the Tazreen Fashions factory that killed an estimated 112 workers.
The poor working conditions exposed, particularly after the Rana Plaza collapse, raise a number of interesting questions. How poor are the working conditions in apparel factories in Bangladesh? Do they meet the minimum national and international standards of working conditions? How have government regulations failed to ensure minimum standards? Are the local manufacturers fully responsible for such poor working conditions? Should some blame also go to the international retailers and buyers? Are the poor working conditions due to the negligence of the national government? Most importantly, how can such poor working conditions be improved?
We investigate these questions by using the global value chain (GVC) as a theoretical framework. There are two types of GVC: the buyer-driven value chain and the producer-driven value chain. The buyer-driven value chain is common for labour-intensive industries, while the producer-driven value chain is common for capital-intensive industries. As the apparel industry is one of the most labour-intensive industries, it is distinctively classified under the buyer-driven value chain. There are three main parties involve in the chain: (1) branded marketers/retailers/manufacturers without factories (2) traders/buyers, and (3) local factories (manufacturers/producers). Branded marketers/retailers/manufacturers without factories (e.g., Nike, Levis, JC Penny) are usually from developed countries while buyers/traders are typically from newly industrialized countries (NICs) such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea. International retailers and buyers exercise strong control in the chain as local producers are highly dependent on them to sell their products. While workers receive only 0.9% mark-up of the selling price, the factory owners and international retailers earn almost 4 times and 70 times, respectively than the workers’ wage.
We investigate the present status of working conditions in apparel factories of Bangladesh by using primary evidence (conducting interviews) from major stakeholders: 100 local manufacturers, 300 workers and 10 international buyers. Our preliminary analysis shows that although Bangladesh has made moderate progress in some of the aspects of working conditions, including child and forced labour, most of the other aspects such as basic wages, compensations leave and benefits; labour-management relations; and occupational health and safety are found to be unsatisfactory in the Bangladesh apparel industry. Moreover, our study also provides evidence that all major stakeholders of the industry, including the factory owners, the Bangladesh government, the international buyers and the consumers, are responsible for such poor working conditions. Hence, we suggest that all of these stakeholders should work together to ensure better working conditions in the apparel industry of Bangladesh.