By: Mubassar Khan
As Bangladesh’s garment industry is being targeted for its unequal labor practices, there are factories that do standout, in a good way.
One of them is Sonia & Sweaters Ltd, located in the outskirts of Dhaka.
Since the 80’s the garment industry grew rapidly and most owners involved did not plan as well as Sonia & Sweaters Ltd did in 2000. Managing Director Kaiser Khan is very confident in the construction of Sonia & Sweaters Ltd. His team’s focus was to have the best environment for their workers. “From day one, this building was meant to be a maintained industrial factory building.” They manufacture for the brands Gap, Kenneth Cole, and Wal-Mart.
There are 3 different types of buildings that house garment factories according to local experts.
First, are residential buildings that have been converted to factories by simple adjustments and equipment, second are commercial buildings, where retail stores and offices share the building with factories, and third, are industrial buildings, made for the purpose of supporting factories.
According to the Vice President of Bangladesh Garment Manufactures & Exporters Association (BGMEA), Reaz-Bin-Mahmood, the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) have conducted inspections. They conclude that commercial and residential buildings are not designed to withstand the stress of heavy manufacturing. Many garment factories have been built without consulting engineers and illegally added additional floors atop of support columns too weak to hold them. The inspections have lead to factories being immediately shut down, while others have sealed off the illegal floors and removed heavy equipment.
The garment industry is a major staple in the Bangladesh economy, but the recent events have stirred the pot. The collapse of Rana Plaza in Savar, in April left 1,129 people dead and thousands injured. It received public outcry domestically and internationally, asking for the government and retailers to make changes in the industry.
About 4 million people, mostly women, make up the workforce for the garment industry. The cheap labor and garments exported by the 4,000 garment factories are sold to some of the biggest Western retailers. The garment industry now accounts for a whopping 80 percent of Bangladesh’s exports.
But Khan worries that his factory is at risk with the recent media backlash against the garment industry.
“We all started this trade with a good intention, with a good heart, we must not forget that and the people that hurt this industry will be at the end of the day, hurting Bangladesh,” says Khan.