Many within the fashion industry have been keeping a close watch on the continued efforts in Bangladesh for reform, especially as it relates to the apparel industry.
Recently, WWD had the opportunity to speak with the Bangladesh commerce minister, Tofail Ahmed, who was in Washington on Wednesday. He was spearheading a delegation in the U.S. capital to discuss the apparel industry in his country, and how it is looking towards the future, based on the learnings of the past.
Below are some excerpts from Ahmed's discussion with WWD.
In regards to actual change happening within the garment sector of Bangladesh, Ahmed commented to WWD.
"The situation has totally been changed in the garment sector. It has become far more congenial and business is also picking up. The government has taken a lot of actions in Bangladesh, perhaps more than in any other place. So within a few years, you will see that the garment industry in Bangladesh is really excelling."
Ahmed continued to explain how the salary of workers has risen. Within the past five years, he commented how it had "increased 219 percent."
WWD also delved into how the garment sector received some funding from the recently passed budget.
Ahmed explained, "Yes, the garment sector is the first to get a benefit from the budget. We introduced duty-free imports of products for fire safety."
"Last week, in our budget we waived the duty on fire safety equipment, which will encourage the owners to install fire-fighting measures cost effectively."
WWD asked Ahmed if the changes in Bangladesh were well received in Washington.
He remarked, "They were good meetings, more so because the people we met were also satisfied. They have started realizing that Bangladesh is doing an excellent job."
Ahmed also spoke about trade unions to WWD.
"One of the important changes in terms of labor has been the fact that there are now 160 trade unions that have been registered in less than a year. For many years, it was eight to 10 trade unions."
WWD highlighted how there has been some worry in the U.S. about workers', especially those seeking to form or join trade unions, being harassed.
"Whatever they have heard about the harassment of workers, etc., is not correct."
"They do not want to see workers lose their jobs. They are interested to see that compliance is happening, that factories are well organized, well established, if there are any vulnerable factories, they should be relocated, so that the workers should not lose their jobs."
In regards to the thought that change may be happening too slowly, Ahmed had the following to say to WWD.
"Facilitating formation of trade unions, strengthening relevant government agencies, including the appointment of inspectors, comprehensive assessment of fire and building safety, adoption of National Occupational Safety and Health Policy 2013, launching Better Work Program, establishment of hotlines, reviewing the BEPZA Act and so on. Things are changing. What more can we do?"
We want to hear from you. Do you think Bangladesh is heading in the right direction? To answer Ahmed's question, do you think there is more they can do?