Recognized widely for dramatically reducing poverty, Bangladesh and its people on Monday received global recognition as the World Bank marks End Poverty Day in Dhaka.
From the sidelines of the event, CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan caught up with Rubana Huq, MD, Mohammadi Group - one of Bangladesh's most celebrated entrepreneur and among BBC's 100 outstanding women in 2013 & 2014 and asked her about the competitiveness of the readymade garments business.
The Mohammadi Group is a diversified conglomerate from real estate, to power generation, media, information technology and readymade garments.
Huq said the business is very competitive but that drive itself makes them better and better. “Garments have been our core industry and we are the best at what we do,” she said.
After China, Bangladesh is second largest exporter of readymade garments.
Below is the verbatim transcript of Rubana Huq’s interview to Shereen Bhan on CNBC-TV18.
Q: Let me start by asking you about the garment business because after China, Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of readymade garments. How easy or difficult has it been and you have been in this business in Bangladesh for 20 years. How competitive is it?
A: It’s very competitive. It is pleasantly competitive because it is the drive that makes us better every day. There is lot of competition, but there is also a lot of opportunities, lot of business is being diverted from China, from India and we are benefitting from that.
Q: Why is that, is it because it’s cheaper here in Bangladesh?
A: Let just say we are the best of what we do and garment has obviously been our core industry for a long time, for almost 3 decades, so we have mastered this art of production. So, therefore you know Chinese are getting more expensive, India of course offers a lot of value addition to their products, but then we are sort of now also graduating to the next level of efficiency and productivity - - hopefully we will end up being the best and also because we have an unique advantage of being assessed very critically.
Right now our structural integrity is being examined critically, so is our electric and fire criteria. Therefore, we are getting better even with our setups. So after all of this is done, after all the remediation is done - - hopefully Bangladesh will come out to be the single most compliant manufacturing hub of the world.
Q: I wanted to talk about manufacturing beyond just garments and talk about the Bangladesh story. It is an economy that grown at an average of about 6 percent over the last few years and the government is confident of being able to achieve an 8 percent number at the end of the current 5 year plan. Do you really feel that there is enough leavers being exercised at this point in time to really give manufacturing a big boost outside of the sectors that you are present in, which have traditionally being the strong sectors?
A: RNG has been growing at an indomitable speed and when we started off first the government did offer initial support. We have the bonded warehouse facility. We had LC so automatically the business grew. Why we grew along the way there were traditional markets that we used to export a lot, but then again there came the post MFA phase out, where there was no quota so we all thought that we would die at one point, but then there came the EU Everything But Arms initiative so we were allowed entry duty free to EU, which was around 12.5 percent automatically we became competitive and ever since 2006 we have absolutely taken a leap. Of course, garments currently we can do with a lot of support, but its tough being in business, but also like it is pleasantly challenging.
As far as other sectors go, government has of course singled out agriculture as a thrust sector. So, automatically we are hoping that is also going to grow and the Finance Minister's focus is completely on agriculture and the Prime Minister thinks that we will become rural Bangladesh in no time. However, we also have to acknowledge the fact that in over 25 years the shift has been from agronomy to completely manufacturing. So, I don't see many other sectors offering the opportunity because Bangladesh also faces a literacy challenge. Readymade garments is the only sector where we can grow effortlessly.
Q: I want to ask you specifically about the success story of Bangladesh in improving the participation of women in the workforce. Over the past decade or so from 7 million now to 17 million women have joined the workforce. A lot of them employed by your sector - over 3.5 million employed by your sector alone, what is it that makes it work?
A: Sewing is inherently a female thing anyway. I think our females are great at what they do. Actually there is a statistics that if there is 1 percent increase in sales, that increases 0.04 percent demand of female labour in the sector. So, that is very assuring. Women participation as you know almost 27 percent of GDP is lost because of lack of utilisation of female labour force. So, that certainly does not happen in Bangladesh. As time goes by we are seeing more and more recruitment of female labour in our sector also because they are more stable, they don't quit jobs, except for the maternity leave we have had great female workers and also they are very diligent.
So, while we talk about female workers being at a just the sowing level, we are also getting to the supervisory levels. So, there is a shift, it is not as if women are staying where they are. There are lots of hiccups and women are still struggling but then again even by being a female entrepreneur even I have to break the glass ceiling most of the time. So, think about the women out there but then again South Asia is uniquely - we have at least 1 million young workforce entering the labour market every month. So, we have to make scope for the women.
Q: The government is very clearly betting on this being the transformation phase for Bangladesh, that is what everyone is talking about from the Finance Minister to the Prime Minister, what do you think gives you the confidence that this is really going to be the next big leap as far as Bangladesh is concerned?
A: As far as I am concerned will sing praises of the private sector. It is the relentless spirit of the private sector that doesn't give up. I think the sector engages in what they do with utmost passion. So, not matter what comes our way, we are resilient and we work through our challenges. So, it is faith in ourselves that basically brings us up to speed and it is faith that will drive Bangladesh forward.
More to come