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Book review- The Aid Lab: Understanding Bangladesh’s Unexpected Success by Naomi Hossain

Duncan Green's picture

Over the summer I read a few absolutely brilliant books – hence the spate of book reviews. This week I will cover two new studies on development’s biggest recent success stories – China, but first Bangladesh.

How did Bangladesh go from being a ‘basket case’ (though ‘not necessarily our basket case’ – Henry Kissinger, 1971) to a development success story, claimed by numerous would-be fathers (aid donors, NGOs, feminists, microfinanciers, low cost solution finders)? That’s the subject of an excellent new book by Naomi Hossain.

The success is undeniable. Per capita income is up to $2780 from $890 in 1991 (PPP terms). Today, that economic progess is built on 3 pillars: garments (80% of exports, 3m largely female jobs), migration (remittances = 7-10% GDP, about 9m workers overseas, mainly men) and microfinance (which has been used by about half of all households).

But perhaps even more interesting, social progress has outstripped economic growth. Infant mortality down from 258/1,000 in 1961 to 47 in 2011; women were having 7 kids in 1961 and are now having 2. In Hossain’s words (she writes well) ‘Bangladesh is the smiling, more often than not sweetly female, face of global capitalist development. Better yet – she often wears a headscarf as she goes about enjoying her new economic and political freedoms, signalling that moderate Islam can couple with global capitalism.’ (And yes, she does acknowledge that there is still a lot of hunger and deprivation).

The ‘how’ of Bangladesh’s transformation is reasonably well known. What interests Hossain is the ‘why’. It certainly isn’t down to good governance – ‘it has never been obvious why an elite known best for corruption and violent winner-takes-all politics should have committed its country to a progressive, inclusive development pathway.’

Complexities of reputation management and policy making in a globalized world: Bangladesh after Rana Plaza

Sonia Jawaid Shaikh's picture

On April 24, 2013, a building called Rana Plaza in Dhaka came crashing down on thousands of workers, killing more than 1,100 and injuring more than 2,500 individuals. Unlike any other building collapse, this received widespread international attention - and continues to do so - because the building housed factories that sewed garments for many European and American clothing brands. As a result, a chunk of blame for the collapse and deaths was placed on retailers and brands that outsourced their work to Bangladesh, and particularly Rana Plaza.

Since the tragedy, these retailers and companies, both big and small, utilized several brand reputation management strategies. This, in turn, impacted the policies of the garment industry in Bangladesh. Primarily, two retailer blocs, The Accord and The Alliance, emerged which have created their own local and international dynamics.

The Accord is a legally binding agreement that has been signed by many European and North American companies and allows for factories to be vetted and shut down in case of non-compliance with safety standards. The Alliance, signed by North American groups such as Walmart and JC Penny, however, does not guarantee any such protections and allows companies to use their own rules with any legal requirements.

Interestingly, many companies who are either part of The Alliance or The Accord, choose not to publicise their participation in such agreements on their own websites. This allows them minimize any attention that could turn into criticism while still taking part in initiatives in case there ever is an inquiry from media, regulators, or other interested parties.

Campaign art: Is slavery woven into your clothing?

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

The textile industry, in particular the manufacturing of apparel, has long been a key industry in South Asia.  It provides those with relatively low skills with job opportunities. It also has a unique ability to attract female workers; women’s share of total apparel employment is much higher than in other industries in nearly every country in the region. In recent years, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka have made substantial investments in world apparel trade. In 2012, for example, apparel represented 83% of Bangladeshi exports and 45% of Sri Lankan exports.

Nevertheless, the apparel industry in many locations is burdened with poor working conditions and hazardous, degrading policies that damage the environment.  The harsh conditions that many workers in the developing countries must face have been qualified as “slave labour” by The European Parliament.

The Behind the Seams initiative is a new campaign dedicated to improving the conditions of workers in the international fashion industry and to raising awareness about the environmental impact of the industry. Because bad conditions throughout the production of clothing has a greater impact than just the factory. They started with a clear idea: transparency is the first step to transform the industry. There should be no mystery as to who is making your clothes, and all aspects and impacts of a brand’s supply chain should be known and regulated.
 
There should be no mystery
Source: Behind the Seams

Make Preferential Treatment Real For Africa: Relax Rules of Origin

Alberto Portugal-Perez's picture

Fabric from a factory in Malawi. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8488599@N04/5129135667/Countries that want to use preferential trade agreements to boost trade with Africa should re-examine the rules of engagement. New evidence shows that certain rules underlying preferential trade agreements are drastically hindering their intended benefits. In fact, in a World Bank Policy Research Paper and an article forthcoming in The World Bank Economic Review, we find that relaxing those definitions could increase the agreements’ benefits by four times more than just removing tariffs.

Globalization and the Gender Earnings Gap in the Apparel Industry

Gladys Lopez-Acevedo's picture

The 2012 World Development Report, Gender Equality and Development, argues that gender equality “contributes to economic efficiency and the achievement of other key development outcomes.”  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated at the APEC Women and the Economy Summit that “the increase in employment of women in developed countries during the past decade has added more to global growth than China has, ” and argued that incorporating women into the formal workforce is critical for economic progress.  Understanding how major policy changes affect women’s employment and the gender wage gap is therefore critical for implementing future policies that may affect women’s status and opportunities.