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Fact or fiction: responsible sourcing in Bangladesh

By FashionUnited


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IN_DEPTH_ Much has been written in the past few months about textile and garment factories in sourcing countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia, Indonesia and others; one horror story has chased another: Workers trapped by locked

fire exits and grilled windows, workers fainting due to exhaustion and non-ventilated work areas and workers dying in unsafe buildings that literally stand on shaky ground.

But though there are many such factories, this is not the full picture. There are alternatives out there for those who seek them – clean factories in safe buildings with factory owners who treat and pay their employees well. For the latest installment in our sourcing series, FashionUnited has spoken with a representative from one such garment factory in Bangladesh.

Three meals a day, decent wages, medic
al aid and childcare

TEB Fashion International is an independent production unit in Dhaka whose name is an acronym for what the company stands for: Turkish know-how, European mentality and Bangladesh competition. The 400 workers here receive three warm meals a day free of charge on top of wages that are about 50 percent above minimum wage. In addition, the factory has its own medical aid centre, a daycare for the workers’ children and regular fire safety drills. How can TEB afford it and stay competitive?

“We want to be an example for other companies,” says Huseyin Guller, head of sales and design at TEB, in conversation with FashionUnited. The local employees play a crucial role at TEB. “I don’t want slaves”, says Guller, emphasizing that he can’t do anything without his workers. It is this mutual trust and respect that is another attraction about working for TEB though it takes time to build.

“Bengali workers tend to be afraid of the buyers … and have to learn to believe in themselves. This can be done after training and they are very hard-working people. They believe in the short-term end of business rather than long-term planning. Trust in the buyers is not enough, they also need to trust the employer”, adds Guller.

Experiences in
Uzbekistan helped

Though TEB started in Bangladesh as an office in Dhaka only in 2008, Guller profits from more than 20 years of experience in the business. As part of the Dutch firm Dinana Fashion Int B.V., a design and manufacturing company for men’s, women’s and children’s clothes that started in 1993 as a sales unit showroom and now produces for private brands such as The Sting, Score and V&D, he first worked with a production unit based in Istanbul, then helped build up one in Uzbekistan with 600 people.

“TEB-Dinana Fashion Int. B.V. is run by Turkish Management with the mentality ’take care of your employees, only then will you get the best quality’. We cannot imagine good quality in dark factories with missing emergency exits and bad working conditions. Of course it is possible to produce very cheap t-shirts in factories like Rana Plaza, but without any responsibility. We are working with responsible management and are also online real-time following the factories with cameras from the Netherlands," confirms Roland Smit from Dinana.

The production unit in Uzbekistan flourished for many years until child labour allegations became public about Uzbekistan and forced even ethically operating units to shut shop because no buyer wanted to be associated with the country any longer. Since then, the allegations haven’t stopped. As recently as last Friday, Uzbekistan was in the news again when the US government downgraded the country in its Global Trafficking Persons Report to the worst possible ranking (tier III) for its use for forced and child labour for picking its cotton crop.

ges in Bangladesh

No wonder then that Guller got a sense of déjà vu when the news reports about textile and garment factory conditions in Bangladesh started pouring in. But the situation is different now – “there are very fine companies in Bangladesh,” says Guller. Plus, with international retail giants like H&M, Fast Retailing and others confirming their commitment to the country, a major pull-out is unlikely. And not feasible as Bangladesh is in the second spot in terms of exports after China and thus, it would be quite difficult to quickly find an alternative to thousands of garment factories and millions of dedicated workers such as they are available in Bangladesh.

Regarding the difficulties of starting a production unit in Bangladesh, Guller stated that red tape was a deterrent, also contracts that were exclusively written in Bangla and had to be translated into English. TEB also asked for many extras in terms of building safety, which the landlord had to be convinced about. At the end of the day, it was all possible though and TEB, which is a Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) partner and BSCI audited, reached a rating of 9.2. “Now we are striving for 10,” says Guller proudly.

Of course, quality comes at a price and Guller admits that TEB is not an option for local buyers in Bangladesh who find the production unit too expensive. The European connection through Dinana pays off as European customers are willing to pay slightly higher prices if coupled with other incentives like convenient delivery and payment options. Also, with two million pieces a year, the production volume is manageable. “Some companies do that in a month”, says Guller. Plus, TEB produces more labour-intensive garments like sweaters, shirts and pants with decorations for medium-range companies; segments like T-shirts with its dumping prices are certainly out.

What can international buyers do?

Asked what he wishes international buyers and brands to do, Guller hopes that their mentality will change. Instead of looking for the cheapest production units, they should speak to their governments for support and request better control systems. They should ask for audits on top of doing their own checks in so-called ‘risk countries’.

Self-sufficiency of local units is also important. TEB plans to pull out its five Turkish engineers that have lived in Dhaka since starting the production unit. “Local workers are better for office dynamics plus in the long run, the wages of Turkish workers are too high,” says Guller. Stay tuned for our next article in the series next Tuesday that looks at the workers’ perspective. In the meantime, do send your insights and comments to news@fashionunited.com.

Simone Preuss

Images: TEB factory in Dhaka / Dinana

Sourcing series