The China sourcing conundrum
In conversations with U.S. and European retailers and brands, ELEVATE – a company formed in 2013 to support corporate social responsibility – finds that apparel buyers rate diversifying away from China as one of their top three sourcing goals.
This is not to suggest that there is a desire to exit China – which currently holds by far the largest share of global apparel trade, at 41 percent – but rather a need to significantly reduce dependence on product from China, owing to rising costs, factory closures, unenthusiastic second generation family ownership, new attitudes about working in factories, and a perception that China wants to move to higher-value manufacturing. Sourcing and procurement organizations feel uncertain, and uncertainty is not a friend of supply chains.
The problem is that for all its uncertainty, China still has a huge base of factories, a well-developed transport infrastructure, and a comprehensive eco-system that supplies cut-and-sew operations, and management that has matured with years of experience. Even if a buyer would like to give another country an opportunity, many corporate risk managers view certain countries or regions as quite challenging for doing business.
South Asia could seize this opportunity by better meeting requirements – besides competitive costs – that are vital to global buyers. These include: (i) quality, which is influenced by the raw materials used, skill level of the sewing machine operator, and thoroughness of the quality control team; (ii) lead time and reliability, which are greatly affected by the efficiency and availability of transportation networks and customs procedures; and (iii) social compliance and sustainability, which has become central to buyers’ sourcing decisions in response to pressure from corporate social responsibility campaigns by non-governmental organizations, compliance-conscious consumers, and, more recently, the increased number of safety incidents in apparel factories.
Surveys of global buyers show that East Asian apparel manufacturers rank well above South Asian firms along these key dimensions, as noted in a new World Bank report on apparel, jobs, trade, and economic development in South Asia, Stitches to Riches (see table). So, what can South Asia, which now accounts for only 12 percent of global apparel trade, do to become a bigger player? An encouraging recent development is that buyers have started collaborating to facilitate new sourcing possibilities – as the case of Bangladesh illustrates.
“Despite the global slowdown, India has been one of the few countries to have shown remarkable growth in the last financial year. While this has been an achievement in itself, this growth rate can be taken to double-digits.” This was the key message of Dr. Frederico Gil Sander, Sr. Country Economist, World Bank Group, New Delhi. Dr. Gil Sander was speaking to students at the IIM Ahmedabad as part of the World Bank - IIM Discussion Series. The discussion centered around “Financing Double-digit Growth: Current and Long-term Challenges of India’s Financial Sector”.
Dr. Gil Sander noted that urban consumption and public investment have been the key drivers for current growth. Additionally, a good monsoon this year is expected to give a boost to rural consumption. These, coupled with the promised emphasis on supply-side factors such as labour reforms, the inclusion of more women in the labour force, and the timely implementation of GST can boost economic growth. To further increase this growth rate, potentially to double-digits, these drivers will first have to be augmented by productive capacity investment, which in turn depends on ease of credit availability from banks. However, credit growth in India is marred primarily by high lending rates, priority sector lending regulations and rising non-performing assets (NPAs).
Blog 12: Key lessons on road to sharing prosperity
India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Over the last few weeks, this blog series has highlighted research from the World Bank and its partners on what has driven poverty reduction, what still stands in the way of progress, and the road to a more prosperous India.
This is the last blog in the #Pathways2Prosperity series. You can read all the blogs in this series and keep contributing to the discussion around #WhatWillItTake to #EndPoverty in India.
A thorough review of India’s experience in reducing poverty over the last two decades confirmed some of our previous understanding, but it also revealed new, unexpected insights. On the confirmation side, we found that poverty in India, as in other parts of the world, is associated with a lack of assets at the household level, and especially with limited human capital.
At the national level, 45 percent of India’s poor are illiterate, whereas another 25 percent have a primary education at most. Further down several Indian states, including a few high-income ones, show stunting and underweight rates that are worse than the averages for sub-Saharan Africa. While multiple factors lie at the root of the nutrition challenge, the prevalence of diarrheal disease is thought to be one of the main culprits, and diarrhea is triggered by poor hygiene. Only 6 percent of India’s poor have tap water at home, and a little more than a fifth have a latrine or some form of improved sanitation.
From this perspective, investing in education, health and the delivery of basic services for India’s most disadvantaged people remains a key priority. Investments of this sort would enhance the human capital of the poor, hence increase their chances to prosper.
During a recent visit to Barsam village in the Saharsa district of Bihar, I talked with members of a women’s self-help group - one of over 480,000 such groups formed under Jeevika, a rural livelihoods program supported by the World Bank in Bihar.
Among the group was nineteen year old Shobha. Like millions of girls across the country, Shobha had never been to school. She was married at fifteen, and now has a ten-month old daughter. Shobha sat among us, cradling little Anjali on her lap.
I was happy to hear that, when she was pregnant, Shobha enrolled herself at the local Aanganwadi center which offered nutrition and health services for both mother and child under a public program. At the center, Shobha learnt how to care for Anjali. As a result, the child was exclusively breastfed for six months and received all the necessary immunizations. Now the little girl is being correctly fed a diverse diet of vegetables, pulses, cereals and animal milk, while continuing to be breastfed.
But my happiness was only momentary. As we talked, it emerged that Anjali was only being given a spoonful or two at most of these foods. While the amounts were far from adequate, Shobha thought they were enough for a child of Anjali’s age. And, all the other women agreed.