The most powerful experience of my December visit to Bangladesh took place during a visit to a former subcontracting facility in Savar, about an hour northwest of Dhaka. The empty room was once filled with 100 employees, before a crackdown on subcontracting by inspection programs led to a complete stoppage of work. In the photo, my colleague Vijay holds a well-constructed shirt, given proudly to him by the owner, an expert tailor and patternmaker.
It was disheartening to learn that the he no longer felt able to put his skills to use. Many small factories like his were downsizing as a result of fewer orders, and were unlikely to hire someone with his skillset. He was discouraged by the likelihood that he would have to sell this property, where he also lives with his family, in order to pay off his debts. Though he described himself as entrepreneur, his spirit and enthusiasm for what may come next diminished even in the short hour of our visit.
His experience struck me as emblematic of the larger issues developing in the Bangladesh garment sector. While ensuring worker safety and respect for human rights in the industry, we must encourage and foster the entrepreneurial spirit that once contributed considerably to the networks of manufacturers in Bangladesh.
Nayantara Banerjee is a graduate fellow at the Center and seamstress in Brooklyn, NY