Can Automation Save the Bangladeshi Garment Industry?

December 10, 2018
Can Automation Save the Bangladeshi Garment Industry?

Second only to China in the world’s clothing export markets, Bangladesh focuses on efficiency in its textile factories to defend its market in the face of increased competition from Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and some African countries.

Automation helps Bangladesh modernize apparel factories, with two workers able to do the work of 15.  These improvements help offset increasing costs, as the government mandates a 51% wage hike, and Western brands demand better fire and safety standards in the factories.

Video Spotlight: How Automation Impacts Garment Workers in Bangladesh

This post is based on the Nikkei Asian Review article, Bangladesh fights for future of its garment industry, by Mitsuru Obe, November 4, 2018, and the YouTube video, How Automation Impacts Garment Workers in Bangladesh, by Electric Runway, June 7, 2018. Image source: igor kisselev / Alamy Stock Photo.

Discussion Questions:

1. How does the cost of production in Bangladesh compare to that of other countries, and how does it impact the viability of its apparel industry?

Guidance: Currently, labor costs in Bangladesh remain low by global standards, with an average monthly wage of $101, compared to $518 in China.  However, some African countries like Ethiopia have average monthly wages closer to $50, and this competition threatens the apparel industry in Bangladesh.

The upcoming wage hike will only improve workers’ lives if workers are able to keep their jobs.  Western brands are demanding factories keep their costs low, because of competition from online businesses like Amazon, which make it difficult for brick-and-mortar stores to stay viable.  One way to keep costs lower and increase output is though automation, which results in greater output and fewer deviations in quality and conformance.

2. How do the issues faced in Bangladesh’s apparel industry relate to the increased demand among consumers for sustainability?

Guidance: One aspect of sustainability is how workers are treated.  Factories in Bangladesh have had to spend money to upgrade safety and working conditions in the face of disasters such as the factory fire of 2012 and the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. These two disasters resulted in more than 1,200 worker fatalities.  Western brands now require Bangladeshi suppliers to be certified in meeting strict fire and building safety rules.

While some critics point to young girls being employed at apparel factories, others point out that the chance of gainful employment gives the girls an option to marriage at an early age as a means of support.


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