Coronavirus: Experts call for paying attention to apparel sector

As the government has shut down educational institutions after the confirmation of local transmission of coronavirus cases to prevent the virus from spreading, experts say attention should also be given to the labour-intensive apparel sector.

But stakeholders argue that drastic measures like shutting factories will send rippling effects throughout the sector reeling from sagging demands and delayed shipment of goods.

The government is yet to take a decision.

Dr Edward Pallab Rozario, head of health programmes at Caritas Bangladesh, said coronavirus can infect even before the symptoms appear. “Many people work at close proximity at RMG factories and there could be an outburst of cases (if anyone is infected),” he said.

Labour and Employment Secretary KM Ali Azam assured factory owners that no decision was taken on closing factories.

“Workers have been given various directives, including using hand sanitisers before entering factories and wearing masks,” he said at a programme in Dhaka.

Coronavirus, which has killed over 6,500 people globally until Monday, has disrupted global supply chain and forced shut down of manufacturing factories affecting trade and commerce around the world.

Md Moshiul Azam (Shajal), vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said they have been raising awareness at factories about the virus.

“People’s lives come first,” he said, urging the government to arrange alternatives for them in case drastic measures are adopted.

Shajal said the sector, which contributed 84.21 percent to the country’s export in the last fiscal year, is already under pressure.

Bangladesh’s RMG sector, the second-largest after China, employs about four million people, mostly women, at more than 4,500 factories. Shutting down factories will stop them from completing orders and lose business.

BGMEA President Dr Rubana Huq recently said the sector is facing a grave situation because of coronavirus.

“The brands are reducing their orders and are asking us to hold on to uncut fabric. And those who are producing being asked to hold their shipments as global consumption is coming to a halt,” she said fearing that the situation will have serious consequences.

“And right before Eid when we will have to pay bonus as well, falling exports, failing shipments are the worst possible challenges that the industry can face," she said.

Factory owners say they want to continue production. Md Mohiuddin Rubel, a BGMEA director, said that if the situation demands drastic measures, then they will see what can be done.

President of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), AKM Salim Osman, said extreme measures like closing factory shutters were out of question.

“What will my workers eat if the factories are shut down?” he asked. “Time will dictate moves.”

Source: United News of Bangladesh