A group of US apparel and footwear companies expressed the fear that the efforts by the government and apparel manufacturers in tackling the recent labour unrest over wage hike might hamper further growth of the industry.
In separate letters to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) on May 24, American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) warned of the consequence.
It also urged the government and apparel makers to withdraw all the criminal charges against labour leaders and reinstate the over 1,000 workers fired due to labour unrest over minimum wage earlier this year.
"… your industry is poised for further growth. Yet that growth is threatened by the industry's response to this year's minimum wage protests and the industry's wavering commitment to the future of worker safety," the letter reads.
AAFA, representing more than 1,000 world famous brands, is the national trade association representing apparel (including legwear), footwear and other sewn products companies, and their suppliers, which compete in the global market.
The garment, footwear, and travel goods industries in two countries have built a strong and mutually beneficial relationship over the past few decades, AAFA said, adding that as a result, Bangladesh is now the third largest supplier of garments, and a major supplier of footwear and travel goods, to the American market.
The group also requested ending the uncertainty over the future of Western worker safety initiatives and redoubling the government's efforts to have the Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) inspect and remediate all factories in the garment industry as soon as possible.
While your government did move quickly earlier this year to rectify the deficiencies in the new minimum wage, the aftermath of the minimum wage protests was marred by retribution by the government and factory owners against workers and labour leaders alleged to have participated in or led the protests that brought those deficiencies to your attention in the first place, it said in the letter to the PM.
"That retribution - in the form of mass firings and criminal charges - must end," read both the letters.
The group urged the government and BGMEA to immediately withdraw all criminal charges against those involved in the protests and reinstate all fired workers.
Thanking to the determination of the industry and others, garment workers are much safer today than ever before, AAFA in its letter to the BGMEA said. "Your members have the opportunity to build on 6 years on worker safety success to further grow the industry, employ more Bangladeshis, and improve the Bangladesh economy."
Yet the industry instead works to limit or end Western efforts that helped lead to this success, while, at the same time, the BGMEA supported Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) has inspected only a small percentage of Bangladesh's garment factories and, more importantly, has remediated virtually none, it said.
"This situation must change, quickly, or this success, and the opportunities it brings for your country, will be squandered," it warned.
Applauding BGMEA president's call to improve the lives of women workers, AAFA said its members are committed to women's empowerment, implementing programmes in Bangladesh and elsewhere to help women workers in their supply chains and expressed eagerness to partner with BGMEA.