• New guidelines on garment subcontracting have been issued by Bangladesh's Ministry of Commerce (MoC).
  • They require subcontracting ready-made garment (RMG) factories to join either the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) or the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).
  • Rules have also been set on workers' welfare, labour rights and workplace safety.
The new guidelines insist subcontractors join either the BGMEA or the BKMEA

The new guidelines insist subcontractors join either the BGMEA or the BKMEA

A new guideline aimed at stemming unauthorised subcontracting in Bangladesh's textile and clothing sector will help control its "unplanned" expansion – but at a risk of increased costs and lost jobs, industry owners warn.  

They favour regulation of subcontracting but insist "effective" and "fair" implementation of rules are essential.  

On the plus side, "given the fact that the RMG [ready-made garment] industry has set a global standard with regard to safety and compliance, paying a huge price for it, this reputation cannot be jeopardised for a few unauthorised factories," Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told just-style. 

This subcontracting guideline – understood to be available only in hard copy format in Bengali – published by the ministry of commerce in May, will be a "significant tool" preventing businesses operating outside the law, enabling regulators to monitor their work and insist on minimum performance standards, she explains.

The guideline sets rules on workers' welfare, labour rights and workplace safety, and insists companies take out group insurance for workers.

It also insists subcontractors join either the BGMEA or the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA). 

While the two associations have around 7,000 members combined, the government says between 800 and 1,000 Bangladesh clothing and textile factories remain outside these groups. So the goal of the new rule is to enable industry associations to monitor subcontractors' compliance with other standards within the guidelines.

Medium-sized factories have also supported the new regulations. "Currently, subcontracting firms don't follow any rules. They run factories in houses," argues Mahbubur Rashid, a director of SB Knitting, a knitter based on the fringes of Dhaka. "It's better they operate under regulations." 

Still, he has one concern: compliance will increase costs.

The BGMEA head agrees there should be some flexibility to avoid the law having a negative impact. "There also has to be room for modified code of conduct and compliance for small and medium-sized factories." 

"Cherry picking factories which comply and shutting doors to factories that don't can't be the solution," stresses Huq, because it would cause immediate job losses.

Babul Akhter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), says that if operated carefully, the law will benefit workers.

"If trouble erupts in a factory, we will now be able to reach out to the BGMEA or the BKMEA," he told just-style. However, he wants a parallel policy insisting that all clothing and textile sector workers join a union.