Textile-making countries came up against a range of labour, economic and environmental issues in 2012, including the worsening Eurozone crisis which dampened demand in key export markets. While some struggled to cope, others became increasingly competitive as exports rose.


Despite its well-trailed labour and environmental problems, analysts still backed Bangladesh as having the potential to become a long term apparel sourcing hotspot. Indeed, ready-made garment exports could triple within a decade, as buyers move sourcing away from China, according to research by McKinsey & Company. The firm believes that Bangladesh's ready-made garment industry will see market growth at an annual rate of 7-9% and export value of between US$36bn and US$42bn by 2020. Leading global brands and retailers including H&M, Levi Strauss, Carrefour and Tesco also recognised Bangladesh's potential this year, and in May, backed a three-year programme to clean up production in the country's garment industry. But a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in November, which claimed the lives of at least 111 workers, has highlighted the urgent need for change when it comes to workplace safety and conditions. 

On the back of increased demand from Europe and the US, Pakistan's knitwear and ready-made garment exports continued to rise in 2012, with the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics noting that knitwear exports, for example, jumped 14.4% during October to US$176m, compared to the same period last year. Exports of ready-made garments went up a whopping 41.7% in the same period to PKR14.87bn (US$153m), with improved domestic energy supplies and a waiver in EU import duties contributing to the growth in shipments. Pakistan's Ministry of Textile Industry also teamed up with the International Labour Organisation and the Canadian International Development Agency in September to introduce a training project to develop a skilled workforce, improving workers' living standards and job opportunities.

Burma (Myanmar)
Known historically for its systematic human rights violations and its sluggish sanctions-shackled economy, Burma's government pushed ahead with domestic reforms this year and saw textile and clothing trade barriers to Europe and the US fall away. In November, Washington lifted a decade-long ban on most imports from Burma in response to reforms by the county's semi-military regime, in a move that is likely to boost the country's textile and apparel industry. Before the ban was introduced in 2003, garments made up Burma's largest export category to the US. It has a way to go before becoming an export tiger, but you never know.

Malaysia's garment industry built on its 2011 achievements this year, and its hopes for the beginning of a strong upward trend in exports and sourcing look like they might be coming true. Malaysian textile and clothing exports, in fact, are expected to double to an annual value of US$7.5bn by 2020 after statistics on 2011 were released showing exports increased by 28.4% to US$3.8bn, according to Textile Outlook International. Breaking that figure down, textile exports grew by 33.5% to US$2.5bn, while clothing exports increased by 19.8% to US$1.3bn.

Remaining the country's largest foreign currency earner, Vietnam's textile and garment exports were reported to have risen 7.4% to US$11.14bn in the first nine months of the year, according to Vietnam General Customs. The US remained the country's biggest export market, with sales rising 8% during the January to September period year-on-year, to US$5.6bn. Its sales to Japan and South Korea rose 18.7% (US$1.45bn) and 18.5% (US$748m) respectively, in comparison with the same period in 2011. Mr Le Tien Truong, deputy general director of the Vietnam National Textile and Apparel Group, has hailed the growth as remarkable given the global economy's ongoing turmoil.


Between the worsening Eurozone crisis dampening demand in key export markets, sourcing rivals from neighbouring countries becoming increasingly competitive, the strengthening Chinese yuan and rising labour costs, analysts warned in August that Chinese textile and clothing manufacturers would struggle for the rest of 2012. "This year our output could fall 20% from 2011 due to order loss," Louis Jiang, sales manager at Chengdu-based Sichuan Hainaer Fashion, told just-style. "A weak economy has been dragging down the demand in the Western countries." According to China Customs, the value of Chinese apparel export sales to the EU, for instance, dropped 12.2% to US$21.3bn from January to June 2012, in a year-on-year comparison.

The first three quarters of 2012 showed garment exports from Thailand slumping 11.7% in comparison to the same period year-on-year, with the fall largely due to negative growth in the two main markets - the US and the EU - according to the Thai Garment Manufacturers Association. Although the US still remains its largest export market, accounting for 34.25% of total Thai garment shipments, export values in this market declined 13.9% on-year to US$769.4m. Meanwhile, shipments to the EU fell 23.6% to US$596.4m due to slowing exports to major markets such as Germany, the UK, France and Spain.

Uzbekistan might be one of the largest producers and exporters of cotton in the world - but more than 120 international apparel brands and retailers have now pledged to avoid using cotton from this dictatorial central Asian state. Part of efforts to stop the country from using forced and child labour to harvest cotton crops, the Uzbeks could run into serious export and economic troubles if labour conditions do not change. It was announced in November that Zara, JC Penney, American Eagle and Fruit of the Loom had become the most recent companies to join the list of signatories. Companies say they will maintain the ban until the International Labor Organization independently verifies the end of forced labour.

India also received bad press over labour standards in 2012. Efforts by brands and retailers to improve labour conditions at suppliers in Tamil Nadu have failed, according to a May report from the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN). Indeed, they said clothing being supplied to leading European and US brands by the Indian garment industry is still being produced by young 'Dalit' girls under 18. In June, another report from lobby group Anti-Slavery International and SOMO said five Indian clothing makers - SP Apparel, Bannari Amman, SCM, Eastman and Prem Group - forced young women and girls to work 12-16 hours a day in prison-like conditions, often for well below the minimum wage. India's apparel exports also capped off the year in decline, due to weaker demand in Europe and the US, according to the Apparel Export Promotion Council.

A two-day hearing in Phnom Penh to investigate pay and conditions at factories in Cambodia kicked off 2012, following a spell of mass fainting and strikes in the country's garment industry. "Despite experiencing sustained growth in the sector Cambodia's minimum wage allowance is US$66 a month and is currently the lowest of all its neighbouring states," said Tola Moeun, head of labour programmes for the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC). In May, SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) Company, a Cambodian supplier that manufactures garments for international brands such as Gap and H&M was hit by strikes. And an analysis of the abolition of the World Trade Organization's multi-fibre agreement on textile trade quotas concluded the liberalisation had failed to deliver wealth to Cambodian textile and clothing workers.