50 Bangladesh textile industry statistics fashionistas should know

Bangladeshi children

50 Bangladesh textile industry statistics fashionistas should know

If you venture into your closets and take a look at where your clothes were made, it is more than likely that you will find a large percentage of items were made in Bangladesh. This south Asian country is a giant in the manufacturing industry, and yet most of us couldn’t name many facts, statistics or trends about the Bangladesh textile industry.

While we may have heard headlines telling tales of tragedies or seen campaigns to end worker abuse, there is a lot more to the complex web that is the Bangladeshi textile sector than the headlines that occasionally appear on our newsfeeds.

The more we know, the more power we have to make a positive change. Understanding  Bangladesh garment industry trends and statistics shines some light on just how, where and who made our clothes. 

An Overview of Statistics on the Bangladesh Textile Industry

  1. Bangladesh has the biggest manufacturing sector in South Asia. Largely driven by the garment sector, garments make up one-third of Bangladeshi production.

2. In 2020 Bangladesh was the second largest apparel manufacturer in the world. The largest was China.

3. It’s estimated that over four million people work in Bangladesh’s garment industry.

4. While over four million people are employed in the garment sector, closer to twelve million rely on it to survive.

5. 80% of garment workers in Bangladesh are female.

6. It’s estimated that 15% of workers are girls between the ages of 16 and 30.

7. There are close to 4,500 garment factories and facilities for textile exports in Bangladesh.

8. Top brands including H&M, Zara, and Gap all manufacture clothing in Bangladesh.

9. In 2013 of the $20 billion in exports from the Bangladesh garment sector, 59% went to the European Union and 26% went to the USA.

10. Ready Made Garments (RMG) make up the majority of Bangladesh’s textile exports, accounting for 84% of exports.

11. The RMG industry makes up 5% of total national income and represents 45% of industrial employment.

12. Exports from the RMG sector reached $40.5 billion in the 2019 fiscal year.

13. 20% of Bangladesh’s GDP comes from the garment sector.

An Unfair Industry

The garment sector is famous for shadowy supply chains and shocking stories of abuse. When examining the conditions and unfair pay that workers face, Bangladesh’s textile industry statistics become a whole lot bleaker.

14. The fashion sector has a long way to go to become fair. On average it will take a top fashion brand’s CEO four days to make the same amount of money that the average Bangladesh garment worker will make in a lifetime.

15. The minimum wage for workers in Bangladesh is set at 8,000 taka per month, this is equivalent to roughly £71. However, the minimum amount needed to comfortably live in Bangladesh is closer to £334 per month.

16. In April 2020, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, only 8% of garment workers were estimated to have received full payment.

17. In 2019, a study found that Bangladeshi women working in garment factories earn on average 28 taka (roughly 25 pence) an hour.

18. On the Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index, Bangladesh is ranked as one of the ten worst countries.

19. 20% of social compliance auditors didn’t include women’s equal rights issues in their audits.

20. 40% of auditors neglected to audit the right to a trade union.

21. It isn’t unusual for garment workers to be forced to work 14-16 hours a day. During peak times workers may not finish a shift until 2AM to meet unrealistic industry deadlines.

22. The rock-bottom prices that have become common in the fashion industry drive unrealistic deadlines and low wages. The amount that western brands are willing to pay for men’s trousers has fallen by 13% since the Rana Plaza disaster.

23. Making a bad situation worse, workers are often punished for speaking out. When pay disputes occurred in late 2017 to early 2018, it was reported that 65 workers were arrested on false charges. A further 11,600 workers were fired without legal justification.

Child labour

Bangladeshi women and children
Children working in the garment industry in Bangladesh are paid a pittance. Photo by Yogendra Singh from Pexels

24. 4.3% of children in Bangladesh between the ages of 5 and 14 work to help support their families. A large percentage of these children work in the garment industry. It was found that some children working 64 hours a week were paid less than $2 a day.

25. One survey found that 32% of children between 10 and 14 living in Dhaka’s slum region were employed in the garment sector. Two-thirds of these children were girls.

26. Disturbingly, another study found that 20% of children working in Dhaka’s garment sector were aged under 12.

Tragedies in the Textile Sector

Unsafe conditions and lack of regulations has created the perfect storm, leading to heart-breaking accidents in the sector. The most famous was the Rana Plaza disaster.

27. The Rana Plaza collapse of 2013 in Dhaka injured close to 2,600 people and killed an estimated 1,134. It is regarded as one of the worst textile industry disasters in history.

28. Rana Plaza took less than 90 seconds to collapse and in the days before the disaster workers had raised concerns about cracks in the building.

29. Less than a year before the Rana Plaza disaster, a fire at Tazreen Fashions Factory killed 112 people. The only way to escape the burning building was through windows on the upper floors. 

Bangladesh Garment Industry Statistics on the Environment

Garment workers aren’t the only ones paying for a broken sector, the environment has also been left with a hefty price to pay for our love of cheap clothing. Bangladesh textile industry statistics involving environmental destruction are shocking.

30. 60% of the pollution in the Dhaka watershed is from industrial waste. The textile sector is the second largest contributor to this waste. Tanneries represent the biggest contributors to this waste. 

31. Over 700 washing, dyeing and finishing factories have been found to dump wastewater into rivers in Dhaka.

32. In 2016 the country generated 217 million mᶟ of wastewater. This number was projected to increase to 349 million mᶟ by 2021.

33. Garment mills and factories in Bangladesh use an estimated 1,500 billion litres of water every year.

The Impact of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic was an unprecedented event in recent history. Every industry was hit hard in a world that seemed to transform overnight. The Bangladeshi garment industry was severely impacted by the pandemic and as a result, the livelihoods of millions hung in the balance.

Bangladeshi woman in makeshift home
Women have suffered particularly since the beginning of Covid. Photo by Mumtahina Tanni from Pexels

34. One survey found that 58% of factories had to shut down the majority of their operations due to lack of demand and payment due to Covid-19.

35. Just over 80% of those surveyed reported being unable to offer workers severance cheques when they had to be laid off due to cancelled orders.

36. Over just 3-4 months during the Covid-19 pandemic, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association reported that 71,000 factory workers had been laid off. Many of these people were living on the breadline and faced extreme poverty with employment loss.

37. In April and May 2020, during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, 77% of interviewed workers in the Bangladesh garment sector said they were struggling to feed everyone in their household.

38. The Covid-19 pandemic saw an 84% decline in orders in the textile industry. Brands are estimated to have cancelled £2bn in orders  in just Bangladesh.

39. Unreliable trade due to rapidly changing border closures made it even more difficult for companies to continue operating as stock from other countries became difficult and unreliable to get.

40. While the Bangladesh government offered a bail-out to help garment factories forced to close over Covid-19, this bailout barely covered the wages of garment workers for a single month.

41. Research showed workers, particularly women, have faced increased threats of violence, harassment and sexual abuse since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Accords and Agreements

Formed after the Rana Plaza collapse, the Bangladesh Safety Accord was a ground-breaking voluntary agreement between brands and trade unions to support the safety of garment workers. The Accord involved resolving complaints, monitoring remediation, providing training and undertaking factory inspections. 

The Bangladesh Accord recently expired and as of 1 September 2021 was replaced with the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. Much like it’s predecessor, this accord works independently with unions, brands and factories to create safer and fairer factories. The accord once signed (voluntarily) is a legally binding agreement for a period of 26 months

In the five years that it was active, the Bangladesh Accord achieved:

42. The undertaking of 38,871 inspections and resolution of 1,475 complaints

43. The monitored remediation of 426 factories

44. Signature by over 190 brands and 1,600 factories 

As of 3 March 2022, the new accord:

45. Has been signed by 170 brands

46. Is being tracked by The Clean Clothes Campaign Brand Tracker which tracks those brands that have signed and those that have failed to sign up. Top brands signed up include H&M, Marks & Spencer, Inditex, Fat Face, adidas, ASOS and John Lewis.

Trends Giving Hope for the Future 

Trends in the textile industry giving hope for the future, a field in Bangladesh
There is slow progress being made. Photo by MD SHAHADAT RAFI on Unsplash

While statistics on the Bangladesh textile industry may seem dire, there is some hope for the future. Progress may be slow, but there is a changing attitude towards a fairer, safer and more environmentally friendly industry.

47. Safety conditions have been improving, albeit slowly, since the Rana Plaza disaster. While in the decade before the disaster an average of 71 people per year died across the garment industry from fire and building collapses, by 2018 this had dropped to 17 people per year. While 17 is still too many, each life saved is vital progress.

48. After increased pressure to provide safer conditions after Rana Plaza, workers in some factories reported that management took safety concerns more seriously. Thousands of factories have now invested in safety measures. By 2018 almost 100,000 identified hazards had been remedied.

49. Between 2016 and 2021, 200 factories lost their contracts due to failing safety conditions, representing a growing attitude of accountability.

50. The #whomademyclothes campaign has been gaining prominence and pressuring companies to operate with transparency. In just 2017 (stats from later years unfound), over 3 million people took part in Fashion Revolution Week, bringing attention to the important issue of supply chain transparency.

Knowing who Made our Clothes

To create a fairer fashion sector, it is vital that we understand who makes our clothes and the conditions they face.

Bangladesh is a giant of the international garment manufacturing sector and the more light we shine on the industry the harder it is for brands to hide behind shady supply chains and unethical practices. There is hope for the future of the Bangladesh garment manufacturing sector to become something incredibly positive.

By voting with our wallets and supporting brands that ensure safe supply chains we can create a future where everyone in the textile and fashion sector is protected. A sector where the environment is celebrated and we can all answer the question of who made our clothes.

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