Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg: Bangladesh’s Forgotten Apparel Workers

A study and interactive map launched by New York University Stern Business School's Center for Business and Human Rights in December 2015 reported that there are more than 7,000 garment factories in Bangladesh producing for the global fashion industry, 65% more than previous estimates.  

On 11 February 2016, Mark Anner of Pennsylvania State Univ. and Jennifer Bair of Univ. of Colorado issued a critique of the Stern Center report; NYU Stern Center responded on 13 February.  Six additional scholars wrote to NYU Stern Center on 18 February over the Stern Center's "failure to engage the criticisms" of Professors Anner and Blair; NYU Stern Center responded on 26 February.

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10 March 2016

NYU Stern Center defence of Bangladesh labour report fails to engage with substantive criticisms, say 6 scholars

Author: Janice Fine, Rutgers Univ.; Tim Bartley, Ohio State Univ.; Peter Evans, Univ. of California-Berkeley; Stephanie Luce, City Univ. of New York; Joseph McCartin, Georgetown Univ.; Chris Tilly, Univ. of California-Los Angeles (USA)

[originally written & sent 18 Feb. 2016]

...[We] write to register our concern about your failure to engage the criticisms that Mark Anner and Jennifer Bair have made of, “Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg: Bangladesh’s Forgotten Apparel Workers.” In your public state that you “remain open to serious and thoughtful criticism” of your research. As we find the critique by Anner and Bair to be both serious and thoughtful, we believe that it deserves a substantive response, which you have not yet provided...

In your reply, you neither acknowledge...mistakes [that Anner and Bair have cited] nor explain why they do not undermine the validity of your conclusions. It is critical to underscore that these are not policy positions or issues of interpretation, but specific mistakes [of fact]... [We] respectfully request that you provide a more substantive reply to the specific issues raised in the Anner and Bair report. Specifically, we ask that you provide concrete responses to the following questions...

[NYU Stern Center has responded to this letter - see below]

Read the full post here

26 February 2016

Second response on...Bangladesh research to the Penn State Center for Global Workers Rights and associated scholars

Author: Sarah Labowitz and Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, New York Univ. Stern Center for Business and Human Rights (USA)

Responding specifically to your critique of our research, we underscore that our assessment rests on three levels of analysis. First, we developed a conceptual framework for looking at the industry, rooted in an understanding of the dynamics of direct and indirect suppliers, official and unofficial subcontractors, the fluid boundaries between different levels of the sector... Second, we applied a series of methodologies to enhance our understanding... Third, we populated the framework with the best data available to us and other researchers... You raise a number of issues that merit further attention, which we reflect on in detail...

  • How reliable is the data? What should be done about errors in data entry?...
  • Should the trade associations be included in a dataset of factories?...
  • Can factories that produce for the domestic market be walled off from the export market?...
  • What is the appropriate methodology for de-duplicating complex data?...
  • What percentage of workers and factories do the Accord and the Alliance cover?...

Additional questions that we are interested in exploring with other scholars:

  • How much money is actually being directed toward factory repairs in Bangladesh?...
  • Why are factories not being fixed?...
  • What kinds of solutions should be applied to indirect sourcing factories?

🚫Read the full post here

12 February 2016

NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights response to Penn State Center for Global Workers' Rights Bangladesh research critique

Author: Sarah Labowitz & Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, New York Univ. Stern Center on Business & Human Rights (USA)

We are writing in response to your February 10 critique of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights’ December 2015 report, “Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg: Bangladesh’s Forgotten Apparel Workers.” We dispute many of your assertions about our work, but are pleased that our research continues to garner significant attention... The headlines of our research are that there are thousands more factories and almost a million more workers producing garments for export than have previously been accounted for by global fashion brands, donor agencies, and academics. We also conclude that there has been a woeful lack of progress in actually fixing unsafe factories...

  • Data quality – ...You make several assumptions about the data that are not supported by evidence presented in your critique.
  • Prevalence of indirect sourcing –... Your critique of our field study relies on...conjecture... we stand by the careful and diligent work of our survey team.
  • Number of workers – ...Your critique suggests that the “best available estimate is 3.85 million workers”... You derive this conclusion by averaging unreliable estimates that pre-date the increased transparency reflected in the availability of online data in the fall of 2014...

In sum, your brief relies on loose assumptions unsupported by evidence to discredit our research and advance a disproven hypothesis that the number of workers and factories in Bangladesh stands at 3.85 million and 5,000, respectively...

🚫Read the full post here

12 February 2016

Study questions figures in NYU Stern Center's "Bangladesh's Forgotten Apparel Workers" report

Author: Center for Global Workers' Rights, Pennsylvania State Univ. (USA)

"Pennsylvania State University and University of Colorado Researchers Find Major Flaws in NYU Study of Bangladesh Garment Industry", 11 Feb. 2016

Contrary to Claims by NYU’s Stern Center, New Report Shows Most Garment Workers Are Covered by Inspection Programs Launched After the Rana Plaza Building Collapse....

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Colorado today released a new report on Bangladesh’s garment industry, looking at the crucial question of how many workers are really being protected by the international safety inspection programs launched in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse. Their answer: most of them. The Report is a critique of a high-profile study by New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights... 

The authors of the new report – Dr. Mark Anner...and Dr. Jennifer Bair... – uncovered numerous errors in the NYU/Stern Center study: the inclusion of large numbers of closed factories on Stern’s list of current factories, data-entry mistakes, and inaccurate calculations, among others.

[full report here]

[for response by NYU Stern Center, see above]

Download the full document here

17 December 2015

Press release: Thousands of Unregulated Bangladeshi Factories Are Putting Nearly Three Million Workers, International Brands at Risk

There are more than 7,000 garment factories in Bangladesh producing for the global fashion industry, 65% more than previous estimates. More than half of these factories are small and medium-sized indirect sourcing factories, meaning their workers produce for foreign brands through other, larger factories. These factories operate in the shadows. The result is that millions of workers in subcontracting factories fall outside the protection of international safety-improvement initiatives, and are especially vulnerable in a country where unsafe working conditions are a chronic problem. While global brands, governments in North America and Europe, and international lenders have announced commitments of more than US$280 million for the garment sector in Bangladesh, to date, only a handful of factories have been fixed.

🚫Read the full post here

17 December 2015

full report: "Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg: Bangladesh’s Forgotten Apparel Workers"

Author: Sarah Labowitz and Dorothee Baumann-Pauly

...In a June 2015 survey of two sub-districts of Dhaka, 32% of the 479 factories surveyed were informal subcontractors. 91% of informal factories produced at least partly for export.  Informal factories are a subset of indirect suppliers. They do not register with the government, either of the two national trade associations of apparel manufacturers, or foreign brands.

Workers in this part of the sector are especially vulnerable because they are invisible to regulators and their employers operate on such slim margins that they cannot invest
in even basic safety equipment or procedures. This kind of subcontracting also artificially depresses prices because it does not account for the full cost of producing in accordance with minimum labor standards...

Read the full post here

17 December 2015

Map: Garment Factories in Bangladesh

Factory View

This view shows the locations of every registered garment factory. Factories are stacked in transparent layers. Click on a factory to move it and reveal additional factories in the same location.

Neighborhood View

See the neighborhood view for a breakdown of factories by type in 65 neighborhoods where production is concentrated.

Read the full post here

16 December 2015

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association response to report

Author: Tribune (Bangladesh)

"BGMEA slams New York University study on Bangladesh RMG workers", 21 Dec 2015

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association has rejected outright a report on Bangladesh’s apparel workers by the New York University’s Stern Business School Centre for Business and Human Rights...BGMEA, termed the report “confusing” as it failed to distinguish local manufacturers from the export-oriented ones....BGMEA also expressed concern that the report will cast shadow on the RMG sector...It also said the data shown in the not match with the real data.....“Our research shows that indirect sourcing is an essential element of Bangladesh’s low-cost, high-volume model of garment production,” said Sarah Labowitz, co-director of the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights and a Research Scholar at Stern University...BGMEA, however, described the report as untrue. “We will not take the responsibility of the non-member factories,” it said.

Read the full post here