COVID-19 Hits the Bangladeshi Garment Industry

Discussion questions [Anyone is more than welcome to join our online discussions; For FASH455, please address at least two questions in your comment; please also mention the question number (i.e., #1, or #3; no need to repeat the question) in your comment.]

  • #1: How to understand apparel is a global sector from the video?
  • #2: How to understand the economic, social, and political implications of apparel sourcing and trade from the video?
  • #3: What are the top challenges facing Bangladeshi garment factories during COVID-19? Why or why not do think these challenges will go away soon?
  • #4: How is the big landscape of apparel sourcing changing because of COVID-19? Any apparel trade or sourcing patterns that COVID-19 didn’t change based on the video?
  • #5: Anything else you find interesting/intriguing/controversial/thought-provoking from the video? Why?

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

17 thoughts on “COVID-19 Hits the Bangladeshi Garment Industry”

  1. #1: Bangladesh is the second-largest exporter of garments in the world after China, according to the video. This fact shows that apparel is a global sector. Also, ready-made garments are the biggest source, about 85% of export income in Bangladesh.
    #3: The various waves of COVID, for one are a challenge faced by Bangladeshi factory workers. Besides that, orders are being held or canceled so there’s not a lot of work and people are being fired. I think it will take a while for this to straighten out. At this point in 2021, we’re still having problems so it doesn’t look good.

  2. #1: How to understand apparel is a global sector from the video?
    -Everyone has their own personal experience with being a garment/apparel consumer: however consumers need to focus where their clothing is coming from?, are these workers being treated fairly?, and how this mistreatment of mass production usage is harming everyone world wide through depletion of resources as well as pollution of the environment. Take time researching areas such as Bangladesh and other large garment producing cities/countries and try to understand the struggles they face day to day due to the apparel industry.
    #3: What are the top challenges facing Bangladeshi garment factories during COVID-19? Why or why not do think these challenges will go away soon?
    -Unemployment is a major issue in Bangladesh. Covid made this issue even worse for garment workers due to its travel bans and social/public restrictions. Unemployment rates rapidly increased: many garment workers were fired and could no longer provider for their families. Although we hope covid restrictions will end soon, until they do many additional families will stay in poverty because the virus is restricting the industry from hiring more workers. Due to globalization and wealthy business owners taking advantage of underpaid labor, areas like Bangladesh that export mass produced apparel will continue to suffer.

  3. #1:The news mentioned that due to the impact of COVID-19, many European brands are canceling orders with garment factories in Bangladesh. It can be seen that clothing is a global industry. Although the Bangladesh factory that loses its orders will have a hard life, the brands of countries that cannot get the goods will also be hit hard.

    #3:Bangladesh is the second-largest garment exporter. Millions of workers depend on the clothing industry for their lives. The biggest challenge Bangladesh now faces is that many foreign trade orders are delayed and the factories are on the verge of bankruptcy. If the factory closes, workers will lose their jobs. However, governments of various countries have begun to organize vaccine injections, so this difficulty should pass quickly.

  4. 1. The video shows that apparel is clearly a global sector because disruptions in the industry affect both the western-based clothing companies as well as the developing countries that produce the materials. Both are dependent on each other, as the pandemic has shown because sales hurt clothing companies, which then affected textile workers when these companies put in fewer orders for fabrics.

    5. This video is similar to one of the others we watched about the affect of COVID-19 on Globalization. In that video, German lawmakers proposed a bill to ensure that companies are held accountable for all parts of their supply chain. This bill was introduced after clothing companies cut orders to textile factories, resulting in mass unemployment in areas like Bangladesh. H&M donated $1.3 million to support unemployed textile workers, but maybe more should be done to protect them.

  5. #1 You can understand apparel is a global sector from this video because 5 million Bangladeshy worker’s livelihoods are being threatened because of european and american buyers are cancelling orders. This shows how the industry is disrupted in both developed and developing countries because they are dependent on each other. Developing countries with factories like the one in the video in Dhaka are dependent on orders from developed countries and when orders are cancelled have the garment workers in that factory lose their job.
    #3 As western countries have access to clothing leftover from other seasons they are cancelling orders so Bangladeshi garment factories are facing challenges like receiving 30% fewer orders then usual and not having enough orders for all their garment workers to work so half the factory employees are not employed currently. They are also facing late payments for the orders that were already completed. I think some of these challenges will go away soon like the cancelled orders because as the vaccine is becoming widespread in western countries and some mask mandates are being lifted western countries will go back to normal life soon and the fashion industry will go back to ordering more orders from their factories. However the challenges faced specifically by garment workers in factories like loss of jobs and facing poverty and starvation, both of which won’t go away as quickly because they have been out of the job for months and even when they are employed again they usually barely make a living wage. Their lives are a lot harder due the pandemic and it will be a while until it gets back to normal.

    1. Great thoughts! A quick follow-up comment: even though fashion brands and retailers are placing new sourcing orders, it does not necessarily mean that garment factories’ challenges are going away. For example, as retailers are shifting their sourcing criteria, not everyone that lost the sourcing orders is likely to receive new ones (https://shenglufashion.com/2021/06/07/how-covid-19-has-shifted-us-apparel-companies-sourcing-strategies/). Neither is corporate social responsibility a new issue caused by COVID-19. However, as fashion brands and retailers see the growing importance of vendor relationships in post-COVID recovery, we might see some upcoming changes.

  6. #3: During COVID-19, the Bangladeshi garment factories faced many challenges. Unemployment rates rise as many fashion brands continue to cancel or hold on their orders which threatened over 5 million workers out of a job. The garment factories cut down their employees by half or even closed down their factory due to the low demand during the pandemic. I think it will take a while for these challenges to go away, even though the vaccine is coming out and people begin to buy clothes again, there is way more that goes into the manufacturing that takes months to produce these clothes.

    #4: Bangladesh is the number two garment exporter in the world. I think many fashion brands will begin to diversify their apparel sourcing and not rely so heavily on a country alone for apparel trade. The pandemic caused many issues that affected everyone globally which opened many businesses eye to switch up their strategies moving forward. I think the pandemic has maybe opened fashion brands mind up to the idea of domestic manufacturing which is more expensive, in case anything like this happens again. But also, I think the major Western fashion brands will continue to look towards those low wage countries to keep sourcing apparel due to this economic crisis.

  7. #4: I believe that the pandemic caught many businesses off guard and showed them that they weren’t prepared for the unknown or for a disaster like this to strike. I think companies will begin to look at safer options such as having a few different countries that they are able to source from or even moving operations domestically to make shipping easier should there be another emergency shut down of border, as there was during the pandemic.

    #5: Something that I found interesting and even a little upsetting was how the garments wanted more work and to work harder, even when their health is at risk. In the US during lockdown, we had the luxury of being able to stay home and in some cases work from home, but these people know the conditions are unsafe and they could become very sick, and they still want to go into work everyday and work as much as they can.

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comments. You made a great point for question #5. In an industry conference call I attended last week, the leadership team of the garment industry associations from Cambodia and Bangladesh told us that their garment workers would NOT get paid during the mandatory factory lockdowns. There is no such program like covid relief check available there either. The sad truth is, despite many problems in the current business model (i.e., production & export-led economic growth, which also depends on more consumption), there is no better alternative yet. You may also find this article relevant: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/06/fashion/garment-workers-severance-pay-theft.html
      Welcome for any follow up comment.

      1. Bangladesh garment industry and factory workers is one of the biggest in the world and due to Covid-19 many if not all factories had to shut down. This is the biggest issue caused by Covid-19 because this means no trade, no producing garments, and no work for the factories and people. Buyers from other countries in Europe and America were cancelling their orders from Bangladesh due to Covid-19 and the threat it has. The biggest challenge was the amount of garment factory workers who lost their jobs due to the factories closing. The video said around 5 million workers are now without jobs, which then leads to poverty and homelessness issues in Bangladesh. Sadly I do not think this issues will go away too soon because the workers who are unemployed now have been that way for a while and it will be hard to recover from that as a country because of the low wages and hard times Covid-19 has brought to the fashion industry and the entire world as a whole.

  8. #1 Apparel is a global industry. For example, as mentioned in the video, Bangladesh is a big producer of garments, and then the finished garments will be exported to many European and American countries.

    #3The biggest threat Bangladesh has faced since the outbreak is the closure of orders from many European and American countries. Since most Bangladeshis depend on the garment industry for their livelihood, the lack of orders will leave many unemployed. I think the problem will ease over time if there is not a second outbreak in Bangladesh.

  9. 3. The top challenges facing Bangladeshi garment factories during COVID-19 are unemployment and order cancelations. The factories don’t have enough workers to make all the large orders in the short amount of time they are given and then when these large orders are cancelled the factories are loosing money and time they could’ve spent completing other orders. I think these challenges will start to go away as the vaccine is continued to be distributed and as these Bangladeshi factories start to gain more trust from from those they are supplying to.

    5. I find it intriguing that these worker have to go overtime every single day past their eight hour work shift and still struggle to get the orders finished. This just shows how much stress these workers are put under and the thoughtlessness buyers have when considering how time constraints effect those who are completing the orders.

  10. #1 In my opinion, the Biden administration should end the tariff war with China specifically because of what we have learned in class about the comparative advantage trade theory. I believe that this tariff should be ended because many goods that are needed by the American people can be produced and purchased at a lower cost if they are imported. Considering that this specific tariff war is harming businesses within the United States, it should be ended. For example, the article discusses an Ohio-based business that sells bedding, and how they have struggled due to the tariff that was placed on their exports to China. At this point, the tariff is only beneficial for China, therefore the Biden administration should make a decision in the best interest of the United States and end the tariff war.
    #2 By outsourcing to other countries for the manufacturing of apparel, there are many implications that coincide with this decision. For example, the economic implication that took place in Bangladesh during the COVID-19 pandemic consisted of job loss, pay decrease, and increases in the poverty rate. This is because companies were purchasing smaller amounts which led to a decrease in demand for work within Bangladesh. Also, there are social implications with outsourcing because a company within the United States may have good working conditions and pay good wages to their employees, however, once they outsource their work to other companies, those decisions may change and company standards will likely not be met.

    1. Great comments! The US business community is pushing the Biden administration to remove the tariff on Chinese imports or resume the trade talk with China to solve the dispute (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/01/business/economy/biden-china-trade-policy.html)
      However, as we mentioned in the class, trade often involves non-economic factors or considerations. For example, many argue that the US side needs to keep the tariff as leverage to push China to remove its “unfair” trade practices against US companies and products (i.e., subsidy and forced technology transfer). See this https://www.politico.com/newsletters/weekly-trade/2021/09/13/white-house-trial-balloons-new-china-tariffs-797563

      And I agree with you totally that the apparel trade is highly relevant to many social issues in Bangladesh, such as poverty reduction and social stability.

  11. #1: How to understand apparel is a global sector from the video?
    -This video is a great indicator of how the apparel industry is a global sector. The garment industry in Bangladesh’s is their largest export, and it is being threatened by customers from America and Europe cancelling their orders. This took a major toll on the apparel industry in Bangladesh, as people began to fear that small and medium factories would have to be shut down permanently. Additionally, nearly five million garment workers in Bangladesh faced the threat to their livelihood due to the lack of work. We see the impact of American and European buyers across the globe, as their cancelling of orders threatened the jobs of thousands of workers in Bangladesh. As consumers, we may not realize it, but our purchases of clothing make a significant impact for those who make and sell our clothing, not just at home but in other countries as well.

    #4: How is the big landscape of apparel sourcing changing because of COVID-19? Any apparel trade or sourcing patterns that COVID-19 didn’t change based on the video?
    -Because of COVID-19, the landscape of apparel sourcing is changing. Brands are realizing that they cannot put all of their manufacturing on one country, and are beginning to look to other places to diversify their apparel sourcing. Additionally, brands have taken different strategies to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic, whether it be manufacturing masks or creating loungewear and tie-dye collections to keep up with the emerging trends. Although more expensive, brands may also consider domestic manufacturing. A pattern that COVID did not change is the continued use of developing countries for apparel manufacturing due to their lower cost of production and lower cost of labor.

  12. posted on behalf of emilygarten
    #1 – It is very clear to see how the apparel industry is a global sector from the video. Buyers from Europe and America began to cancel their garment orders from Bangladesh due to Covid-19, resulting in many Bangladesh garment workers struggling due to lack of work. Because of this, there are few opportunities for garment workers in Bangladesh, causing a lot of struggles trying to earn a living. The apparel that is or is not being ordered from across the world is directly impacting Bangladesh, proving that apparel is a global sector. Consumers in Europe and the US are impacting the livelihoods of Bangladesh garment workers due to their lack of apparel purchases, resulting in factories closing and Bangladeshis losing their jobs.

    #4 – Bangladesh has had to face the facts that the patterns of apparel exportation will not change overnight due to the downfalls caused by the pandemic. Companies are still trying to sell last year’s products, resulting in fewer orders going through Bangladesh for new apparel. Brands are coming to the realization that they may need to expand their manufacturing and supply chains to ensure they have the best possible resources and prices in order to keep their businesses afloat during these difficult times. At the start of the pandemic, work from home loungewear, workout apparel, and masks became the forefront of apparel brand sales, which is projected to continue to do well as Zoom-chic, living room workouts, and mask requirements have become the new normal. Overall, brands will continue to utilize developing countries such as Bangladesh to produce their clothes due to scarce resources and low manufacturing costs.

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