Trade and Development: Discussion Questions from FASH455

ethiopian-textiles

#1 Why do you think the Indian girls from rural villages chose to leave their home for the new garment factory jobs in the city? Overall, was it a right choice for them?

#2 How do you compare your life to the Indian girls in the article? And please just imagine: ten years later, what will the life of these Indian girls look like? How about yours?

#3 Do you think owners of the garment factory treated the Indian girls “fairly” according to the article? Why or why not? Please also explain your benchmark for “fairly”.

#4 Why do you agree or disagree with SMART’s petition to suspend the benefits of certain East African Community (EAC) countries under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)?

#5The fashion industry has been very concerned with sustainability issues in recent years. What implications will the used clothing ban have on the environment? Or should EAC countries prioritize their economic development first?

#6 Making and exporting clothing has significantly helped many developing countries grow their economies, such as China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. Isn’t that East African countries should follow the same development path? Or does importing used clothing provide a new school of thought on economic development?

(Please feel free to join the online discussion and mention the question # in your answer)

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What Do You Take Away from FASH455?

I encourage everyone to watch the above two short videos, which provide a great wrap-up for FASH455 and remind us the meaning and significance of our course.

Indeed, I hope students can take away essential knowledge about textile and apparel (T&A) trade & sourcing from FASH455. So far in the course we’ve discussed various trade theories, evolution pattern of the global T&A industry, three major T&A supply chains in the world (namely the “Western-Hemisphere” supply chain, “Factory Asia” supply chain based on the flying geese model and the phenomenon of intra-region T&A trade in Europe) as well as T&A trade policy. Understanding how trade and sourcing work will be highly relevant and beneficial to your future career in the fashion industry no matter as a fashion designer, buyer, merchandiser, sourcing specialist or marketing analyst.

However, more importantly, I hope FASH helps students shape a big picture vision of the T&A industry in today’s global economy and provides students a fresh new way (perspective) of looking at the world. Throughout the semester, we’ve examined many critical, timely and pressing global agendas that are highly relevant to the T&A industry, from apparel companies’ social responsibility practices, the debate on the impact of free trade agreements (FTAs) to the controversy of Trumps’ trade policy agendas. It is important to keep in mind that we wear more than just clothes: We also wear the global economy, international business, public policy and trade politics that make affordable, fashionable, and safe clothes possible and available for hardworking families.

Likewise, I hope FASH455 puts students into thinking the meaning of being a FASH major (as well as a college graduate) and how to contribute to the world we are living today positively. A popular misconception is that T&A is just about “sewing,” “fashion magazine,” “shopping” and “Project Runway.” In fact, as one of the largest and most economically influential sectors in the world today, T&A industry plays a critical and unique role in creating jobs, promoting economic development, enhancing human development and reducing poverty. For example, globally over 120 million people remain directly employed in the T&A industry, a good proportion of whom are females living in poor rural areas. For most developing countries, T&A usually accounts for 70%–90% of their total merchandise exports and provide one of the very few opportunities for these countries to participate in globalization. We are as important as any other major on the campus!

Last but not last, I hope from taking FASH455, students can take away meaningful questions that can inspire their future study and even life’s pursuit. For example:

  • How to make the growth of global textile and apparel trade more inclusive?
  • How to distribute the benefits & cost of globalization among different countries and groups of people more equally?
  • How to make sure that tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse will never happen again?
  • How to make international trade work better and lead to economic growth and human development more effectively?
  • How to use trade policy as a tool to solve some tough global issues such as labor practices and environmental standard?

These questions have no real answer yet. But they are waiting for you, the young professional and the new generation of leaders, to write the history, based on your knowledge, wisdom, responsibility, courage and creativity!

So what do you take away from FASH455? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

Trade and Development

This video provides a great summary of what we disused in class on trade and development. Please keep in mind that:

  • Textile and apparel industry (T&A) plays a critical role in generating economic growth, reducing poverty and promoting human development both in history and today. This is why T&A remains a critical sector in the 21st global economy, even though people may think this is such a “simple” product.
  • Apparel sourcing is far more about how to get the best quality product at the lowest price. Throughout the supply chain, sourcing decisions and practices are closely connected with many people’s destiny in the world, especially those living in the developing countries. As future professionals working in the fashion apparel industry, please think about your impact and responsibilities.

Welcome for any further comment and feedback on the topic.

Two Years after the Rana Plaza Tragedy: What Has Changed?

rana plaza

Note: the followings updates are compiled based on the 2015 Bangladesh Development Conference held from June 5th to 6th at the Harvard University. The conference attracted over 100 attendants and speakers from various aspects of the apparel industry, government agencies, international organizations, non-government organizations and academia.

1. Overall, the industry side argues that tremendous efforts have been made to improve work safety in the Bangladesh apparel industry and things are gradually improving. However, representatives from some labor unions say that changes are not happening fast enough as they should.

2. Indeed, as one of the most noticeable changes after the Rana Plaza tragedy, the Bangladesh apparel factories are now facing more frequent safety inspection and audit from various parties:

  • In addition to the regular inspection conducted by individual fashion brand or retailer, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (the Accord) and Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (the Alliance) were established in 2013 respectively (mostly funded by western apparel brands sourcing from Bangladesh) to maintain minimum safety standards in the Bangladesh apparel industry.
  • The Accord has a total five-year budget of $50 million to be used on factory safety inspection and improvement. However, it is far from being clear what will happen after the Accord agreement expires in 2018 and whether the inspection achievements can be maintained afterwards.
  • The International Labor Organization and International Finance Corporation launched the “Better Work” program in collaboration with Bangladesh government, apparel factory owners, workers, fashion buyers and other relevant stakeholders. The program intends to provide assessments of factory compliance with national law and core international labor standards, paired with transparent public reporting on findings.
  • Nevertheless, some people argue that audit itself is not the answer to the problem, just like “a pig will not gain weight simply by weighting it; instead, we have to feed it.” Reflecting on the limitation of inspection and audit, they refer to compliance as just a piece of paper whereas ethics is something that keeps people awake in bed.

3. Some foreign governments also have responded to the Rana Plaza tragedy, although in different ways:

  • Stick: the U.S. government decided to suspend Bangladesh’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) status in 2013 as a response to the Rana Plaza tragedy. Because textile and apparel are excluded from GSP, this measure has no direct impact on Bangladesh’s apparel exports to the United States. But the movement is symbolic and significantly increases the publicity of corporate social responsibility (CRS) issue in the Bangladesh apparel industry.
  • Carrot: in comparison, the European Union chooses to continue providing Bangladesh its GSP benefits. As a GSP beneficiary, Bangladesh’s apparel exports to EU can enjoy duty free treatment when competing with other Asian suppliers such as China and India. According to EU, from 2008 to 2012 EU28 imports from Bangladesh increased from €5,464 million to €9,212 million (+69%), which is more than half of Bangladesh’s total exports. While granting Bangladesh the benefit, EU also launches the GSP Action Plan and the Sustainability Compact to encourage responsible businesses in Bangladesh.

4. Training has been provided for Bangladesh officials to help them better understand building safety requirements.

5. More apparel factories in Bangladesh now have their own labor unions. According to the local law, 30 percent of the labor force in a factory can form its own labor union, meaning theoretically one factory can have up to three different unions. There has been more open discussions on “worker/women empowerment”, “social dialogue” and “stakeholder engagement” in the Bangladeshi society as well.  

6. Some creative financial incentive mechanisms are suggested to improve the situation, such as offering factories with better compliance record with more attractive interest rate for bank loans; and adding building safety clauses in factory insurance contract.  

7. Academia is actively engaged in finding a solution for improving the CRS practices in the Bangladesh apparel industry as well:

  • Based on analyzing the factory inspection data, some scholars start to evaluate the effectiveness of the current inspection system (eg: does who pay for the inspection matter for the result? Does violation go down overtime in inspection? What is the role of on-going people to people relationship in inspection?).
  • Some projects intend to develop an estimate of the true size of the Bangladesh apparel industry, given the fact that the worst work condition may exist in those undocumented factories. As a matter of fact, even the Bangladesh government doesn’t know how many garment factories they have in the country.
  • Some scholars propose the idea of linking a company’s social compliance data with its business financial data to evaluate the business implication of CRS practices.
  • Some studies compare the labor practices between Bangladesh and other developing countries in South Asia such as Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
  • Some people suggest using case studies to develop hypotheses for a policy change.
  • More and more studies are now conducted based on field trip and interview in Bangladesh.

8. Criminal charges recently are filed against a dozen individuals and companies identified responsible for the Rana Plaza tragedy.

9. Response to the Rana Plaza tragedy has further led to a discussion on the broader economic, social and political reform in Bangladesh.

Sheng Lu

Study Suggests Positive Social Impact of the Garment Sector on the Lives of Bangladesh Women

While our case study 1 focused on the problem of corporate social responsibility practices in the Bangladesh garment sector, a recent study based on examining 1,395 households in 60 Bangladeshi villages in 2009 suggests that the growth of the garment sector has resulted in positive impacts on the lives of Bangladeshi women.

Specifically, the study finds that:

1) Girls exposed to the garment sector delay early marriage and childbirth at early ages (12-18). Many studies have suggested the negative welfare implications of early marriage and childbirth.

2) Girls exposed to the garment sector gain extra years of education. According to the study, on average, one additional year of working in the garment sector statistically will lead to a 0.48 years of education for girls. The authors further suggest that increased demand for skills in garment factories was one of the main driving forces behind such a positive correlation.

As argued by the authors, in developing countries such as Bangladesh, social policies such as education are often tied to trade policy and industrial policy.

However, one another interesting finding is that the average wage level of respondents working in the garment sector was almost 22% lower than those working in the non-garment sector in Bangladesh.

So, based on our case study and the above research findings, do you have any new thoughts about improving the corporate social responsibility practices in the global apparel industry? Do you think Western retailers shall stop sourcing apparel from Bangladesh because of the reported problem of factory safety and workers’ working condition? Please feel free to share your views.

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2014 USFIA Benchmarking Study Released

UntitledKey Findings

  • China will remain the dominant supplier, though Vietnam and Asia as a whole are seen as having more growth potential.
  • Companies aren’t leaving Bangladesh, and are committed to compliance.
  • Companies continue to look for opportunities closer to home, including the United States, as they diversify their sourcing.
  • Companies are diversifying their sourcing and expect to continue to do so. However, current FTAs and preference programs remain under-utilized or don’t represent a major component of respondents’ sourcing.
  • Respondents welcome the passage or renewal of all future trade agreements that intend to remove trade barriers and facilitate international trade in the industry.

About the Benchmarking Study
The 2014 USFIA benchmarking study is conducted based on a survey of 29 executives at 29 leading U.S. fashion companies from March to April 2014. The study incorporates a balanced mix of respondents representing various business types in the U.S. fashion industry, including retailers, importers, wholesalers, and manufacturers. The survey asked respondents about the business outlook, sourcing practices, utilization of Free Trade Agreements and preference programs, and views on trade policy.

The full study can be downloaded from HERE.

EURATEX Raises Concerns about Pakistan’s Membership in the EU GSP+ Program

In a statement released on November 4, 2013, the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (EURATEX) openly expressed their opposition to the proposed “unique delegated act” for the EU Generalized Scheme of Preferences plus (GSP+) program. Specifically, the EURATEX strongly questioned Pakistan’s qualification as a beneficiary of the GSP+ , saying that “Pakistan has a poor record in matters related to Human rights and in particular to the protection of religious minorities, women and children .”

As put by Mr. Alberto Paccanelli, president of the EURATEX: “During the recent GSP revision it was repeatedly stated by the EU Commission that one of the main objectives of the new regime was to ensure that preferences were given to the countries that need them and in the case of GSP+ to countries that are promoting high Human, Social and Environmental standards.”

The GSP system is an EU trade policy tool specifically designed to help developing countries expand exports to the European Union markets. Beneficiaries of the GSP program can enjoy special favorable market access conditions such as tariff reduction and quota elimination.  For example, the EU charges an average 6.2% and 11.2% tariff rate for textile and apparel imports respectively from most sources, but the rates are lowered to 5.0% and 9% respectively for imports from GSP beneficiaries.

As part of the GSP system, the GSP+ program provides additional market access preferences to those economically and socially vulnerable countries under the condition that these countries will “implement core human rights, labor rights and other sustainable development conventions.” For example, textile and apparel imports from beneficiaries of the GSP+ program will be waived for import tariffs in the EU market. This will substantially improve the price competitiveness of products from the GSP+ beneficiary countries when competing with Asian suppliers such as China and India.

Despite the emphasis on Pakistan’s human right practices, the real factor driving EURATEX’s opposition to Pakistan’s membership in the GSP+ program could be market competition.  Pakistan is one of the most competitive textile and apparel exporters among the GSP beneficiaries. Data show that Pakistan’s textile and apparel exports to the EU market enjoyed robust growth over the past decade, causing the EU domestic textile & apparel manufacturers to become nervous about import competition.  The EURATEX, which represents the commercial interests of the EU local textile & apparel industry, has consistently opposed EU’s duty free access to Pakistan’s textile and apparel products.

Moreover, under the EU GSP system, there is a mechanism called “graduation of competitive sector”, under which imports of particular groups of products originating in a given GSP beneficiary country will lose GSP preferences once the average imports of this particular sector exceed 15% of GSP imports of the same products from all GSP beneficiary countries (12.5% for textile and clothing). However, the “graduation of competitive sector” mechanism will not be applied to GSP+ members. This means that if Pakistan becomes a GSP+ member, the EU domestic textile and apparel manufacturers may have to face increasing import competition from Pakistan but can do little about it.  

The most critical yet controversial part of the debate is, to which extent, the GSP system can be built into an effective and balanced development tool. According to a 2012 World Bank study, “the textile and apparel sector is THE most important manufacturing sector of Pakistan, which generated one-fourth of the country’s industrial value-added, recruited more than 40% of industrial labor force, contributed 8% of the country’s overall GDP and accounted for about 60% of Pakistan’s total merchandise exports.”  That being said, allowing Pakistan to export more textiles and apparel to the EU market is one of the very few ways to make the GSP system work and bring actual benefits to the country. Yet, the EU domestic textile and apparel industry can also cite statistics, arguing the necessity of protecting the domestic textile mills and saving the jobs there by resisting as many textile and apparel imports as possible.

On the other hand, the GSP system needs to take into consideration the benefits of all beneficiaries, especially to avoid creating “losers” and “winners” within the group. This is the philosophy behind the introduction of the “graduation of competitive sector” mechanism so that the interests of those “small countries” can be particularly taken care of. For example, when Pakistan is gaining additional market shares in the EU textile and apparel import market because of the GSP+ status, other less competitive developing countries may see decline of their exports. The textile and apparel industry is as important to these “losers” as it is to Pakistan.

Overall, the GSP debate reflects the significance and the complexity of the textile and apparel sector in the 21st century global economy.  Particularly, trade policy will continue playing a key role in improving the situation, yet it calls for courage and wisdom of policymakers.

by Sheng Lu

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