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Bangladesh summit stand-off paves way for dialogue

The need for change in Bangladesh’s garment manufacturing industry was heard “loud and clear” by senior members of government, trade organisations and industry at the Dhaka Apparel Summit last weekend, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) has said.

The ETI – an alliance of companies, trade unions and non-governmental organisations – and retail groups including H&M, Inditex and Marks & Spencer pulled out of the conference on 23 February amid concerns following the arrests of protesting Bangledeshi garment workers.

But the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Ministry of Labour and IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) came to an agreement for the release of 35 jailed trade unionists and garment workers two days before the summit started.

Peter McAllister, executive director of the ETI, told Drapers the organisation had always hoped to attend: “We spoke to the BGMEA at length and they were very passionate and protective over the industry, but at the same time said some of the action had got out of hand and wasn’t legal, which is why there had been arrests.”

“We were pleased to see that they were open to dialogue on how to do things better or differently.”

During the conference, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, underlined the importance of the garment manufacturing industry to the country, while other speakers outlined the need for more progress.

McAllister said that delegates were shown a series of slides that revealed a “remarkable” drop in FOB [free on board export] prices over the last 10 to 15 years, demonstrating that “while some firms that source in Bangladesh are committed to developing a sustainable industry, far too many are continuing to push further and further on price”.

“Senior people from the government, BGMEA and industry heard loud and clear that things need to change but the real test is what comes next.”



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