Soon after garment export from the country took off in the mid eighties, subcontracting began to gradually assume an important role in catering to exports, albeit indirectly. Over the decades, subcontracting became almost integrally linked to exports as many exporting factories not able to cope with excessive seasonal orders preferred to give part of the contractual jobs to smaller factories to be done under their supervision. Save exceptions, things went fairly well, and the number of factories reliant on subcontracting increased manifold. However, since the majority of these factories are not registered with either BGMEA or BKMEA -- the parent trade associations of woven and knit garments respectively, they suffer from non-recognition, and the jobs they do for the exporting firms remain unaccounted for. Since they work for the exporting firms under the latter's direction and close supervision, they may be deemed as an extension of the exporting firms. But the fact remains that being not registered with the relevant trade associations, and having not undergone factory inspection and remediation as regards a host of workplace issues by either Accord or Alliance -- representatives of European and North American retailers, they find themselves in limbo. Not only do they suffer non-recognition but more importantly, in the absence of factory remediation as per set standards, it is no one's responsibility to look after them.
Last week, the BGMEA in a notification informed its members that it would not shoulder any responsibility that may arise due to awarding subcontracts to garment factories not affiliated with the trade body. The key reason being that these unregistered factories pose safety risks to workers as the majority of them remain outside the purview of the factory inspection that took place after the Rana Plaza building collapse. After the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, many factories that failed to comply with safety standards were closed while the number of such non-member factories has increased over time due to increased work orders, especially in the post-lockdown period.
A senior BGMEA representative said to the FE that although these unregistered factories play an important role in garment export by carrying out subcontracted jobs, they are susceptible to lack of workplace safety and other risks. According to the Mapped in Bangladesh (MiB), there are more than a thousand non-member garment factories as of June last. This large number of non-member factories has created employment for some 0.22 million workers, of them 40.53 per cent are males and 59.47 per cent females, finds the MiB.
Under the circumstances, there is a need for recognising the role played by the subcontracting factories. It is in the interest of the country's garment industry that BGMEA and BKMEA found a way out to bring this large number of factories under their ambit, and to do this the non-member subcontracting factories may be tasked with required remediation jobs to be performed within a specific timeframe. The government, too, has an important role to play in ensuring their compliance, while also facilitating credit to do the required jobs.