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

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

  1. #1 – It is clear that apparel is a global sector from the video as Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of garments after China. Bangladesh’s ready-made garments are the biggest source of export income – taking up 85% of that export income. The U.S. relies on Bangladesh’s apparel and exports for their markets as we frequently see “made in Bangladesh” on the tags of some of our clothing.
    #3 – During and post pandemic, Bangladesh has faced numerous challenges regarding their exports, their work place, their employees, and the income their employees make. The video stated that before the pandemic, about two and a half thousand workers were employed and after the pandemic hit, only half the workers remained employed. Regarding exports and inventory, orders had to be cancelled twice due to the pandemic and the RMG export decreased from 34 billion US dollars in 2019-2020 to 28.9 US billion dollars in 2020-2021. Clothing retailers in Europe and America accumulated excess inventory and cut back on spring orders. Some sourcing agents even faced late payments, which sets back both the sender and receiver in the long run.
    One thing I found really interesting and somewhat shocking in the video was how the garment employees wanted to work so much more than they had been already. Most employees began to work overtime (over 8 hours) to make more money, however, they were no longer given the opportunity to do such a thing. As a result, Bangladesh’s garment industry employers were struggling. One employee said that he wished more orders were placed just so he could work more and get extra money to “live a better life with his family.” It is unfortunate that even though health is at risk, they still want to work.

    1. Hi Michaela!
      You and I had the same reaction to the garment workers wishes for more work. It is unfortunate that their wages are already so unlivable, that they need to rely on overtime to simply provide for their families. Over the years we’ve learned all about labor laws and why they became so widely utilized after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911. I wonder how many third world countries will begin to see a spike in unsafe labor activities and hour exploitation. Will families try to pull strings to get their underaged children working in order to provide more money for their families? I think that this is an area to watch for sure as factories continue to operate during the different phases of this pandemic.

  2. 1. One statistic from the video is that Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of garments in the world, after China. Ready made garments are the biggest source, about 85% of export income in Bangladesh. In other words, countries heavily rely on each other; Bangladesh for other international businesses to house their production within their borders, and other countries for Bangladesh to source their businesses production.
    3. Some of the top challenges garment factories in Bangladesh face because of the pandemic are: only half workers are now working, and factories are closing, because companies are either sending in much smaller orders or completely canceling orders – detrimentally hurting these factories. With the vaccine, factories are hoping these issues will be resolved and things can get back to the way they were. From experience within the past few months, even with the vaccine the disease is still rampant. Overall, I think it will take much time – the vaccine provides a huge help in keeping people from suffering when they have COVID, however because of the hysteria and precautions surrounding COVID-19, it will take a long time for life, including factory work, to return to normal.

  3. #1: According to the video, Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of garments in the world after China. Garments make up 85% of export income in Bangladesh. This goes to show that many other countries rely on Bangladesh to produce their clothing, being that it is cheaper for countries to manufacture there. This has proven apparel to be a global sector.

    #3: There are several top challenges facing the Bangladesh garment factories due to COVID, but the top two are fewer garment jobs available and less orders being placed by foreign buyers. Only half of the workers are working in factories now. There are less jobs available, causing many garment workers hardships in finding employment. There also isn’t much opportunity for garment workers to work overtime to make extra money. Second, buyers from Europe and the US are placing smaller orders, with the second wave of COVID causing them to cancel the orders. This ultimately leads to less manufacturing occurring, leading to less workers being needed, and less money made for Bangladesh and its economy.

  4. 1.) It is clear from the video that apparel is a global sector. Everyone in the world wears clothing, and lots of that clothing is produced in either China or Bangladesh. China is the world’s largest exporter of ready made clothing while Bangladesh follows a close second. There are over 5 million Bangladeshi workers who rely on the garment industry for income. Because of the pandemic, other countries were not placing orders from Bangladesh, so many workers were left without work and with no money because of it.
    5.) One major problem that the video discussed was the fact that so many Bangladeshi people were left without work during the COVID-19 pandemic. 5 million Bangladeshi people rely on the garment industry for income. According to Worldbank, roughly 65% of Bangladeshs’ population is working age. This is an extremely high percentage of the population that was likely left without work during the pandemic. The video noted that most workers relied on over time work for extra money during pre-pandemic times. They worked more than their allotted weekly hours in order to have more money for their families. Because of the corona virus pandemic, normal working hours were not even fulfilled, let alone overtime hours. This left many Bangladeshi people in financial hardship and poverty. The women interviewed explained that they are in a better financial position now after their factories have reopened and they are able to work again. Now I am left wondering if in the coming years, we will see an even greater crack down on labor laws. Will garment industry workers in third world countries continue to overwork themselves for money? Will factories ultimately be the ones held accountable for this despite the workers willingness to exploit themselves for this money?

  5. #3: The top challenges facing Bangladeshi are due to covid because the factories now face less orders, cancelled orders, and late payments. These three things cause a larger problem for workers either not being able to work or there are less opportunities for workers to work longer shifts and earn more money for their families. I don’t think that this problem will go away soon because of the problems that were mentioned in the video, such as some major retailers are still nursing last year’s clothes which would have been sold in clearance sales in normal times. I think that it will take a while for the factories to recover due to all of the backorders and cancelled orders that they are facing.

    #5: I also found it interesting how much the employees wanted to work more hours in order to earn more money for their families but due to all the problems that they are facing, such as less orders, cancelled orders, and late payments, there isn’t an opportunity for this to happen. I also found it interesting about how much of an impact the vaccination will make too slowly solve the problems that they are facing. In the video they kept mentioning how they hope the vaccination will make a difference in the U.S so that more normalcy will start to happen which would mean more orders and working opportunities for them. It’s crazy to see how much the factories can be affected by U.S orders and how much the vaccination could make a positive impact on their situation.

  6. #2: The result of the pandemic has led to a decline in orders from other countries that Bangladesh had previously exported to. According to the video, nearly five million garment factory workers were affected by the lack of work from factory closures or working long hours without being compensated for overtime in order to keep their jobs. While it still brings in some money, the workers and their families are affected by the lower income as well as the potential exposure to Covid-19 due to the close workspaces. Politically, the video shows how Bangladesh’s garment industry heavily relies on foreign consumption. A few of the people interviewed mentioned how they felt more at ease once international orders started coming through again. Even the former vice president shared his hopes for a return to normalcy for the sake of Bangladesh’s largest industry.
    #3: One of the greatest challenges faced by Bangladeshi garment factories during the pandemic is the lack of orders from other countries which leads to less work, layoffs, and factories shutting down. This leaves no opportunities for workers to earn extra income to better support their families and has led to a decline in exports from Bangladesh. I think these challenges will subside if there is more international demand from Bangladesh. There is also a chance that even after the pandemic is over, some factory owners may not be able to re-open their factories due to political reasons affecting the demand for products produced in Bangladesh. It is difficult to say, but with most large corporations wanting to spend as little as possible on manufacturing costs, Bangladesh may not recover without workers having to sacrifice more of their time and labor for less pay.

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