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Bangladesh garment industry fears attack

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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The echoes of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh can still be felt three years after the disaster killed 1,000 workers in April 2013. Add to the lasting damage last weekend's terrorist attack in Dhaka, the home of Rana Plaza and the manufacturing hub of Bangladesh, means local and international garment workers are fearing for their safety.

Bangladesh, in particular Dhaka, has built a thriving economy producing garments for the world's leading high street brands. Without Bangladesh there would be no H&M, Zara, Mango, Uniqlo, Primark or indeed any other international fast fashion business. Clothing manufacturing is thought to represent 80 percent of Bangladesh's gross export employing over 4 million people. Health and safety concerns, fair wages and equal rights are a far cry from terrorism, violence, and at worst, death.

According to the AFP "This attack will turn away foreigners," said Faruque Hassan, senior vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, which represents 4,500 factories. "The impact of this attack will be very damaging for the industry. We are now extremely worried," added Hassan, whose Giant Group supplies clothes to retailers including Britain's Marks & Spencer and Next.

“Bangladesh has never seen such a horrific incident,” said Mohammad Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. “It is a strong slap to our image. It will put pressure on our business, but we cannot say to what extent at the moment.”

Uniqlo's parent company Fast Retailing Co has already taken the bold measure of implementing a travel ban and informed its personnel on the ground to stay home. Uniqlo is thought to have a permanent staff of 10 Japanese workers in Bangladesh and the threat of violence and terrorist attacks made it one of the first retailers to respond with suspending travel for its team.

The violence is a threat to the economy

"The hostage crisis in Dhaka is a terrible tragedy reflecting how security has deteriorated in the country," said Sarah Labowitz, co-director at the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights in New York. The violence presents "a serious threat to the economy," Labowitz said. "This kind of attack will surely keep (fashion) buyers away in the months leading up to the holiday shopping season."

Ulrica Bogh Lind, a spokeswoman for H&M, which sources many of its clothes from Bangladesh, told AFP the Swedish chain was "deeply sad about the tragic incident. We are of course monitoring the situation in Dhaka closely."

While retailers will watch Bangladesh closely, industry experts point out that unrest plagues many developing countries where labour is cheap. As terror attacks in France, Brussels and the United States over the past year show, the threat of terrorism is not confined to single countries or indeed developing nations.

"If foreigners give in to fear, terrorism's political mission will have succeeded," said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, a retail consultancy in New Delhi. "Exports and foreign investment are both critical (in) the upliftment of a very large poverty-stricken population," Mr Dutta told AFP. "The contribution of foreigners is vital. It is important for everyone to remain engaged."

Image: Dhaka market, Wikipedia

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