Safety overhaul puts strain on Bangladesh garment industry

Sun Jan 4, 2015 6:21pm EST
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By Krista Mahr and Serajul Quadir

DHAKA (Reuters) - Undaunted by a run of horrific factory accidents that have hit Bangladesh's garments industry, two entrepreneurs bought Adorn Knitwear Ltd earlier this year.

    It is a small business not far from the rubble of Rana Plaza, a Dhaka suburb building that collapsed in April 2013 killing more than 1,100 people, most low-paid seamstresses, and prompting a costly safety overhaul at plants large and small.

Whether people like Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, one of Adorn's new owners, can afford those improvements will be critical for the future of a sector that accounts for over 80 percent of this South Asian nation's export earnings, industry leaders say.

Last month, Adorn's production lines were silent and its sewing machines gathering dust as the lengthy process of checking the building for structural weakness was underway.

"We're losing money every minute," said Chowdhury, 35, as he looked around his factory, which has a list of potentially expensive fixes to be completed before reopening.

    Many high-volume factories depend on smaller firms, contracting out work to meet orders from big Western retailers under tight deadlines.

Today, up to 20 percent of the 3,500 exporting garment factories subcontract, says the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

If that support system crumbles, some factory owners worry Bangladesh's $24 billion industry could lose the agility that took it to number two in the global league of garment exporters.   Continued...

Workers sew prayer caps in a factory in old Dhaka July 29, 2013. Prayer caps are hugely in demand during the holy month of Ramadan. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj