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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.

Harnessing Stitches for Riches in South Asia

Gladys Lopez-Acevedo's picture
Stitches to Riches? The Potential of Apparel Manufacturing in South Asia

In the coming years and decades, China is expected to slowly relinquish its lead position in the global apparel market, opening the door to other competitors. This is a huge opportunity for South Asia to create at least 1.5 million jobs that are “good for development” – of which half a million would be for women – according to a new World Bank report Stitches to Riches?  But those numbers could be much higher if the region moves quickly to tackle existing impediments and foster growth in apparel, which will also yield dividends for other light manufacturers (like footwear and toys).
 
How South Asia fits in the global apparel market
Currently, China holds by far the largest share of global apparel trade – at 41 percent, up from 25 percent in 2000, with about 10 million workers. But as China continues to develop, it is likely to move up the global value chain into higher-value goods (like electronics, and out of apparel) or switch production among sectors in response to rising wages. A 2013 survey of leading global buyers in the United States and European Union (EU) found that 72 percent of respondents planned to decrease their share of sourcing from China over the next five years (2012-2016).
 
Already, the top four apparel producers in South Asia – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka – have made big investments in world apparel trade, now accounting for 12 percent of global apparel exports (see figure). In terms of apparel export value, Bangladesh leads the pack (at $22.8 billion), followed by India ($12.5 billion), Sri Lanka ($4.4 billion), and Pakistan ($4.2 billion).
 
China dominates global apparel trade
(Country share of global apparel exports)


Source: Stitches to Riches?
 
Why apparel jobs are “good for development”
When we think of jobs that are “good for development,” the main yardstick is whether they will help translate growth into long-lasting poverty reduction and broad-based economic opportunities. Apparel fits the bill for numerous reasons. 

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