Bangladesh apparel exporters’ lobby advises production shutdown after coronavirus bailout announced

  • Faysal Atik,
    Published: 2020-03-27 03:08:47 BdST

Factory owners in Bangladesh had resisted calls for production shutdown amid the COVID-19 threat, but now the garment industry lobby has advised them to consider shutting their plants as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise.

Rubana Huq, the president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, asked the owners to follow Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s instructions to stay at home and let the workers do so by keeping the factories shut during the general holidays announced for the outbreak.

Hasina has also rolled out a Tk 50 billion package with almost all of the bailout funds going to the factory owners of the RMG industry that earns $34 billion annually. The fund for workers employed in the export industries can be used only for paying wages and allowances to the workers and other employees.

After the first known COVID-19 case was reported in the country on Mar 8, many worker groups called for closure of the apparel factories considering their health risk.

But Rubana had said, “Every factory owner will decide themselves on shutting the plants. Or the government will provide a guideline. BGMEA is not an authority that can give a decision on this.”

After Hasina’s address to the nation on Wednesday urging the people to stay at home, Rubana said in a statement on Thursday that the prime minister gave specific guidelines for protection from the virus.

“As the largest industrial sector, we must set an example by following the prime minister’s guidelines. I hope [the owners] will consider closing factories in this circumstance,” the BGMEA chief said.

If any factory remains open, it must ensure protection of workers from the virus and take the liabilities for them, Rubana said.

The factories that want to produce personal protective equipment or PPE for doctors to treat patients during the pandemic can also remain open, she added

MA Jalil Ananta, a movie star and readymade garment sector entrepreneur, however, said a shutdown would lead to hundreds of thousands of job losses.

He urged Hasina not to order closure of the garment factories, promising steps to protect the workers from the virus.

As many as 959 companies have seen orders worth $2.67 billion cancelled or suspended by the foreign buyers due to the pandemic, putting the jobs of 2 million workers at risk, according to the BGMEA.

Its chief Rubana said Gerd Müller, the German federal minister of economic cooperation and development, has assured her of continuing cooperation and import of readymade garments from Bangladesh in reply to her letter seeking help.

She said Germany was considering making PPE in Bangladesh as the demand for the product has increased sharply across the globe due to the pandemic.

“The first assurance has come from Germany in this time of crisis,” Rubana said.