The garment industry in Bangladesh may have formalized in 1971 when the country was liberated. Until the 1980s, much of the industry was controlled by sate-owned enterprises, controlling almost all of the spinning miles in the country and over 85% of industry assets. In 1982, many of the assets were privatized, eventually being returned to their original owners.
Much of the garment industry is based on the ready-made garment segment. Growth within the RMG sector was 55% from 2002-2012. In 2005, the RMG sector was the only multi-billion-dollar manufacturing sector, and export industry, within the country.
Most of the exports sent from the Bangladesh garment industry are destined for either the United States or Europe.
The reason for growth and success within the Bangladesh garment industry goes beyond cheap labor. The industry has developed a reputation for providing high lead-time considerations as well. They provide orders on-time, at a lower price per unit, than other lead contractors within their region.
Important Bangladesh Garment Industry Statistics
#1. Bangladesh has the second-largest clothing exporter in the world today, behind only China. There are more than 4,500 factories currently operating within the industry, with a majority of them located around Dhaka. (The Asia Foundation)
#2. About 3.6 million workers are directly employed by the garment industry in Bangladesh, out of a total population of 150 million people. During periods of growth, the industry may employe more than 4.2 million people. (The Asia Foundation)
#3. The garment industry in Bangladesh continues to drive economic growth for the country, contributing a 6% average rate of annual growth since 2007. (The Asia Foundation)
#4. The garment industry accounts for about 80% of all export earnings that are achieved by Bangladesh each year. (The Asia Foundation)
#5. In December 2015, export earnings reached $3.2 billion for Bangladesh, which set a new record for the country. 83% of the revenues earned within that figure came from the apparel industry. (World Finance)
#6. Europe receives 61% of the exports that are created by the Bangladesh garment industry every year. (World Finance)
#7. In total, the garment and textile sector earns around $19 billion each year in annual exports. That reflects 20% of the GDP. (World Bank Group)
#8. The majority of the workers who are employed by the garment industry in Bangladesh are women, many of them who are unable to read. (World Bank Group)
#9. Imports of 6.2 million bales of cotton are expected to be harvest in the 2017-2018 growing season because of the strong demand for garments within the industry. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#10. Domestic cotton production is expected to rise by 5% through 2018, reaching 130,000 bales to support the garment industry. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#11. Only 17 of 72 apparel and footwear companies within the Bangladesh garment industry have agreed to implement a transparency pledge regarding worker conditions. (National Public Radio)
#12. The current minimum wage in Bangladesh is $0.32 per hour. That equates to a minimum monthly wage for workers of $68. (National Public Radio)
#13. 85% of the workers in the Bangladesh garment industry are women. 4 out of 5 workers within the industry put in 12- to 14-hour days, which is in excess of the legal limits in place for the industry. (War on Want)
#14. 75% of the women who work within the industry report that they have been verbally abused while at work. Half of the women said that they have been physically abused. Because of these conditions, most women retire from the industry before the age of 45. (War on Want)
#15. 60% of the workers involved with the garment industry are unable to meet their production target. The targets are so high that, in one factory, each worker was responsible for producing 20 shirts per hour. (War on Want)
#16. The textile and clothing sector in Bangladesh achieved almost $400 million in foreign direct investment in FY 2016, which was 11% higher than the year before. (Textile Today)
#17. In FY 2017, the overall imports for Bangladesh increased by 14.75%, with 83% of the increase due to the import of capital machinery. (Textile Today)
#18. More than 1,000 workers were accused in 2016 of trespassing, instigation, theft, and vandalism, which created enough labor unrest to potentially decrease garment export earnings by more than 9% from July to December that year. (Textile Today)
#19. Accord and Alliance inspected facilities within the Bangladesh garment industry and discovered less than 2% factory risk to safety. The global rate for that measurement is about 4%. (Textile Today)
#20. 75% of the total manufacturing employment in Bangladesh is held within the clothing and textile sector. At the same time, up to 75% of the value-added amount generated by the industry goes to retailers or producers. (Oxfam).
#21. Clothing export growth was 12.4% since 2006, while knit growth was 12.5% and non-knit growth was 12.3%. (Ritsumei)
#22. Emerging export markets for Bangladesh represent 15% of the total exports that the garment industry is able to achieve. The emerging markets include China, Brazil, Japan, and Australia. In comparison, the United States accounts for 21% of the exports achieved by the industry each year. (Ritsumei)
#23. For knit clothing, the United States takes the top spot for the export market, accounting for 37% of the buys that happen for the garment industry. Germany and the United Kingdom account for 24% of total knit buys. (Ritsumei)
#24. The textile-clothing industry in Bangladesh has become a 100% export industry, with no finished products from the industry being sold to the local market. (Ritsumei)
#25. Outside of Europe and the United States, only Canada provides more than $1 billion in export revenues to the Bangladesh garment industry each year. In the last reporting year, Canada provided $1.03 billion in revenues. If the nations of Europe are taken independently, that makes Canada the 7th largest market for the industry. (World Integrated Trade Solution)
#26. The Bangladesh garment industry also generates 200,000 employment opportunities within the waste recycling industry to process materials from textile creation. About 1.5 million people in support industries are dependent about the garment industry as well. (Fashion to Apparel)
#27. There are currently 8.7 million spindles operating within the garment industry right now in Bangladesh. There are another 230,000 rotors in operation, creating a production capacity of 205 core kg. (Fashion to Apparel)
#28. There are 30,000 looms currently operating within the garment industry, with 17,000 of them shuttleless. Another 1,000 power looms are part of the industry as well. The looms produce 255 core meters of production capacity. (Fashion to Apparel)
#29. About 500,000 hand looms are still used within the garment industry as well, which provide a production capacity of 837 core meters. (Fashion to Apparel)
Bangladesh Garment Industry Trends and Analysis
Tragedies have rocked the Bangladesh garment industries in recent years. One of the worst incidents occurred in 2013, when an 8-story garment factory in Savar, which is just outside of Dhaka, completely collapsed. Over 1,100 people lost their lives in the incident, with another 2,500 being injured.
These issues have shown that there is an overall lack of safety provided within the garment industry in the country, creating an urgent need to provide safer buildings and working environments.
Numerous calls from the international community have been made for more than a decade to have the industry improve its safety record. At the same time, however, exports have increased for the industry, encouraging strong revenues without any accountability to work safety.
Cheap labor still drives growth within this industry as well. There are strong positives to consider here as well, however, as the wages, though very low from a Western perspective, have also transformed the lives of many women in Bangladesh.
Because of these unique structures, growth will always be strong within this industry. It is up to the international community to hold the industry accountable for worker safety to ensure it continues to meet global demands in an ethical manner.