Balancing Trust and Exits

 Published in: The Daily Star on July 15, 2015

Today’s column is all about uncertainties. By the time you read this piece, things around the world will have changed. The P5+1 group of the powerful nations have concluded the 100-page deal over its nuclear programme. By this time tomorrow, Greeks would probably know the details of their deal now being worked out by the finance ministers. It is the unpredictability of mankind that keeps us on our toes. One never knows when the next leaf is going to be turned and how the next chapter is going to be read. Yet, with super egos backing our faith, we pretend to be under control when in reality, even the very next minute is ambivalent and as irresolute as ever.

Who would have thought that Tehran today qualifies to “open new horizons” and become the latest player to join “the international battle” against “the increasingly brutal extremism that is engulfing the Middle East” at a time when just a few days ago, Iran’s intentions were regarded as the most disingenuous and absurd, when it was considered to be operating through Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)? And suddenly, all seem to have changed and sanctions seem to be all set to be lifted, benefiting Iran to the tune of almost $150 billion in the first year. There you go. The international definition of Trust today varies from time to time and before you know it, winds will have changed course, yet once again.

Who would have thought that Greece would be offered a new lifeline with the toughest prerequisites imposed by the same member states, which had adhered to the 15-year-old currency pact together for so long? Who would have thought that two weeks ago, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, leader of the anti-austerity party Syriza, who won a landslide victory through a referendum that refused to accept a European offer of fresh financial assistance in exchange for tough new austerity measures, would today be crucified? Who would have thought that Greece, of all nations, would fall under the suspicious category, not be “trusted” to pay out and hence, suffer a bitter setback? Greece today is suffering one of the worst economic declines in modern history, according to a tweet from RBS Economics and of course, Greece is not at war. But contrary to many of our expectations, Greece will now be forced to cut wages, making its 25 percent unemployment scenario even worse, and eventually will have to come to terms with the fact that the Europeans are more attached to the Euro than they were to the gold standard which was created in 1930s.

Who would have thought Bangladesh would miss its export target? We earned US$25.5bn in the year to the end of June, which was a 4.5 percent increase on the prior year but Bangladesh’s Export Promotion Bureau also declared that it was US$1bn below the country’s target. But then again, there’s another news of our exports to the US increasing by 2.98 percent in 2014-15. So, in between the doldrums of uncertainties, we, by habit, choose to do what we deem the best. In this regard, one such news on BGMEA leaving the board of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a platform of North American retailers working to improve safety in the Bangladesh garment sector, is an issue worth pondering over.

There is no denying the fact that the lives of garment manufacturers have become more than challenging these days. Most of us operating with small and big sized factories have to face the multiple directives, which are handed down by both the platforms, Alliance and Accord. We may have a thousand and one reasons not to agree with what they require us to do, but the fact is we have to win this battle. It is not a battle against either Alliance or Accord, but it’s a battle where we have to fight against our own demons. I don’t blame the BGMEA President at all. With so many factories complaining of being forced to remediate and incurring huge expenses that are not supported by anyone, he is undoubtedly under tremendous pressure. However, comments by Finance Minister AMA Muhith describing Alliance and Accord as a ‘noose for the garment industry’ have added fuel to the fire even further. In response to all this, on June 19, Alliance expressed its deep concern over the comments made by the finance minister and the BGMEA president and had urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government to clarify their position over their ongoing efforts to improve safety in the RMG sector.

It is foolish to assume that brands and retailers don’t have sourcing choices in the world. Most humbly, if we are to thrive in the RMG sector and if we are to support the four million plus workers in the sector, the only way is to work with the two bodies which have been set up to ensure remediation in the country. If we are to win over the current challenges, we need to work with (and not without) both these platforms.  Frequent trips to Accord or Alliance office won’t hurt any manufacturer. Endless negotiations won’t kill. Getting dates in the “Corrective Action Plan” to be accepted by these two platforms maybe an uphill task, but there’s nothing we can’t solve if we are working with the tide. Swimming against the tide will only attract negative international attention, which we certainly can’t afford, at a time when the international balances between trusts and exits are dangerously too close for comfort.

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