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Bangladesh garment industry 'not a Titanic about to sink': BGMEA to David Birnbaum

A post by Mr. David Birnbaum came to the attention of BGMEA and we feel it absolutely important to clarify a few issues. 
 
First of all, the BGMEA President has nowhere accused the international brands and retailers for lowering the price, rather she has often raised the issue of unfair internal competition along with dipping prices that kills the price. So, as much as the brands are responsible for viewing Bangladesh as a source of cheaper clothing, the supply chain of Bangladesh also needs to realign itself and decide how to offer the best possible product with a deserving price so that all the investments that they have done in their factories do not go in vain. 
 
Second of all, reference to OTEXA’s data on pricing is only limited to a few months whereas the average prices from USA have been going down in recent years. As per the report of OTEXA average price has dipped by 7.5% over the last four years. So only recent data may be a reflection of the US-China trade war and the diversion of businesses that is happening, and thus cannot be argued as a counter narrative of falling prices. 
 
Third of all, regarding Rana Plaza issue, the current BGMEA Board has gone on record by saying that the sector will not assume an overly defensive stance at any point of time. It cannot be denied that the Rana Plaza incident involved sheer irresponsibility of every stakeholder. So, the reference of this event should not come into consideration at this point of time because in six years the industry, with the support of all — including global brands and retailers — has made huge progress in every aspect of sustainability including workplace safety and workers well-being. So, reference of Rana Plaza within the current discourse is not relevant. 
 
Therefore, the random lines on the price, on consumers, on workers are not correct. BGMEA President, Rubana Huq, has never said that the fault is with the customers or with the government, rather she has asked for policy support from the government. Furthermore, Mr Birnbaum’s ‘epitaph’ for Bangladesh’s garment industry smacks of self-entitled presumption of how it ought to be between the BGMEA and its government. Although he is a veteran and industry insider with a first-class reputation, it is the BGMEA that negotiates with its government in whatever manner with whatever rhetoric it sees fit. The rationale may be lost on outsiders. That is perfectly understandable.
 
The BGMEA President has never said that the fault is with the workers either. She said if the industry is to pay higher wages, buyers have to pay a fair and decent price. The reason being, over the past 5 years our minimum wage has been raised by 51%, our cost of production has increased by more than 30% during the same period of time, our currency has not been depreciated compared to competitor currencies, and our skills and efficiency levels are not comparable to other countries. The efficiency level of workers remains stuck at 40-50% because of literacy level. The statement that Bangladesh provides the lowest minimum wage is not correct as there are countries who pay less. If we revert to prevailing wages, we were higher than many countries in the world. 
 
In the article referred by the author nothing is mentioned about foreign owned enterprises. Such random accusation from an industry specialist is completely unacceptable. We value the author’s experience in the industry to a great level and such messages and statements could seriously harm industries in this country of ours. Therefore, the author must kindly substantiate his statements with specific references and specific data. 
 
The point about compliance is not correct and again it has to be backed by data. We are at the best point ever with regards to workplace safety, and social and environmental standards. The author is more than welcome to visit. 
 
BGMEA will not be engaged in any defensive posturing of this industry anymore. If there is anything deviation to norms, we must collaborate, address and remediate: 
 
The comments about committing industrial suicide and lack of democracy is completely misleading. The fact that the author even mentions Myanmar in his writeup as a sourcing destination is appalling, because Myanmar is a country which has perpetrated widespread genocide. There should not be any reason behind championing the cause of genocide in exchange for commercial consideration. 
 
To end this response, let’s just add that we are not a Titanic about to sink. We will stand proud because of our accomplishments backed by data, and certainly not on the back of perception and historical anecdotes about issues which have already been addressed.
 
Times have changed and so has the industry in Bangladesh. There is a new breeze in BGMEA. We expect veterans like him to support and extend collaboration so that we can jointly rectify whatever is not looking good.
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