Bangladesh business leaders push for reopening of factories in pandemic

Workers wash hands with water and soap before entering a garment factory in Dhaka's Tejgaon on Monday, Apr 5, 2021 as a weeklong lockdown began to contain a surge in coronavirus cases. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi
Factory owners have urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to allow factories to reopen by easing the restrictions set on industries, including the garment sector, during the ongoing lockdown.

Leaders of BGMEA, BKMEA, BTMEA, Dhaka Chamber and FBCCI made the request during a meeting with Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam at the Secretariat on Thursday.

They say that prolonged closures risk losing their share of the international market, breakdowns of supply chains, congestion at ports and will have an overall effect on the economy.

“We came to request that all kinds of industrial work be allowed to resume during this lockdown,” said BGMEA President Faruque Hassan.

The government had allowed factories to remain open during previous lockdowns, but ordered them closed in the lockdown imposed on Jul 23. But factories involved in the processing of rawhide from Eid sacrificial animals, food products, COVID-19 prevention products and pharmaceuticals were exempted from these restrictions.

Owners in the readymade garment industry, concerned about the timely delivery of exports during a busy season, have called for these lockdown rules to be relaxed.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said: “The current lockdown will continue. We cannot accept the requests of industrialists at this time.”

“We are voicing our concerns and explaining the problems there will be if industries remain closed,” said FBCCI President Jashim Uddin.

BGMEA President Faruque Hassan said the cabinet secretary had assured him that the prime minister would be informed of their request and a swift decision would be taken.

“Our request bears in mind the coronavirus situation, the number of new cases and deaths. We hope the government takes this into consideration. We aren’t just representing the garment sector, but all industries. Many things are involved in the industry and so we have requested that it be exempted from lockdown and that our request be considered.”

FBCCI President Jashim Uddin said that the food, hide and pharmaceutical sectors were also experiencing a supply chain crisis despite being allowed to stay open.

“The food industry needs wrapping and cartons. In such circumstances, industries cannot stay closed.”

Asked whether they had requested any specific date on which factories could reopen, the BGMEA president said:

“No, we did not set out a specific date, but asked for it to be as soon as possible. As the lockdown was from Jul 23, and everything was pretty much closed from Jul 18 or Jul 19 ahead of Eid, everything has been closed for a long time and there are shortages in the supply chain.”

“In addition to exports there are many imported goods at the ports. The ships are unloading but there isn’t space at the port to keep the cargo. If factories are not reopened the containers at the ports will not be released and cause difficulties further down the line.”

“When workers are at the factory, they feel safe receiving the vaccine. But when they go to their home villages, they no longer want to take them. If workers stay in the villages, they will not have access to doctors, medicine or hospitals near them. They will if they stay near the factories. We can also provide security to our workers.”