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Trade: Bangladesh

Garment exporter
Bangladesh is the world’s largest exporter of jute, and the largest supplier of shirts and T-shirts to Europe.

The garment industry is particularly important, with over 1500 factories employing over 1.2 million people, most of whom are women. The factories use over 2 billion metres of fabric each year, but less than 5% of this is produced inside Bangladesh.

The majority, together with the machinery used in the garment industry, is imported. It would be more beneficial to the Bangladeshi economy (and the people employed) if more cloth were actually made in Bangladesh itself.

Bangladeshi flag

Unfair trade
At present, many of the workers receive low wages, and work in unsafe conditions. The National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) campaigns for fair wages and fair trade.

They argue that it is iniquitous that multinational corporations can buy T-shirts in Bangladesh for $2, but can sell them in the USA for $20 or $30.

In operating such unfair trade practices, costs have to be kept low in Bangladesh resulting in the exploitation of the workforce there. Current trade rules which include import duties and quotas all further depress the Bangladeshi garment trade – hence Fair Trade is needed.

Bangladeshi flag

Women take action
Whilst many women are still affected by the constraints imposed by poverty, which are often exacerbated by social, cultural and religious factors, employment in the garment industry has given them greater economic independence and status.

This is being reflected in their increasing involvement in (often discouraged) trade union activities. Women are also demonstrating their ability to run small businesses as seen by the success of the Grameen Bank’s micro-credit scheme.

Other trade initiatives focus upon using particularly women’s traditional handicraft skills to help improve their living conditions in rural areas.

Bangladeshi flag

Fair Trade
One example of an organisation working with rural women is The Jute Works. This was established in 1973 by CARITAS/Bangladesh, the Catholic Service organisation.

Over 7000 village women in 16 districts of Bangladesh work in rural co-operative style groups producing jute and ceramic products.

The high quality goods are exported, which brings not only income but also improved social status, self-esteem and a better understanding of the outside world.

The Jute Works, together with similar organisations, operate on Fair Trade principles – which has an increasingly high appeal to buyers in countries of the North.