A group of buyers representing some 20 global brands and retailers is this week visiting Bangladesh as part of a wider regional tour to explore sourcing alternatives to China.

The delegation from Hong Kong will also take in Burma (officially known as Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam. 

Richard Vuylsteke, leader of the delegation and president of American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said the executives are looking to diversify their sourcing, especially as China is shifting from basic garments to other high-tech industries and faces rising labour costs.

"Bangladesh is our first choice...the country has a long history of producing readymade garments," he said.

The executives and senior officials represent Amer Sports, Walmart, C&A/Mondial, Carter's, Esprit, Foot Locker, H&M, Li & Fung Group, PVH, Target and VF Corp among others.

Between them, these brands and retailers purchased ready-made garments worth around US$5.8bn - around 30.4% of the country's total garment exports in the fiscal year 2011-12.

During a meeting yesterday (8 November) with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) issues were discussed including management education and training, sustainable factory models, a periodic review of the local minimum wage, and infrastructure developments.

"It is a crucial time for us. If we can give them [the global buyers] the assurances that the government is working to develop the infrastructure, we can surely become an alternative to China for them," the BGMEA noted.

The BGMEA said a shortage of skilled manpower still remains a big problem for the country's apparel industry. Currently, around 4m workers are employed in the sector, of which 80% are women.