The RMG Industry of Bangladesh: A story of Triumph

There are many people who haven’t yet visited Bangladesh but felt its warmth by the virtue of world-class apparel made by the country. Garments with “Made in Bangladesh” tag reach people of all ages in more than 150 countries, essentially providing with their second skin, keeping them warm during winter, comfortable in summer and trendy in autumn. Heritage, culture, tradition all have significant influence over Bangladesh becoming a hub of world-class apparel manufacturing and preferred destination to buyers across the globe. A dive into history will show how garment making had a special place in the lives of people Bangladesh and their ancestors long ago.

The amusing history of Indian Subcontinent’s drapery heritage dates back all the way to 1st Century AD. Over the years, the people of Bengal has embedded and expressed their passion and emission through its heritage and culture. During 16th and 17th century, one of the finest fabric of Bengal, Muslin was sought after by royalty across the globe and international trade of Muslin generated massive amount of revenue. Muslin is now documented as a Geographical Indication (GI) product of Bangladesh, sharing the stage with Jamdani. It was handwoven from uncommonly delicate handspun yarn in villages Jangalbaree, Shonagragon, Teetbari, Dhamrai, Bajitpur area near Dhaka, Bangladesh. Later, one of the finest varieties of Muslin and the most artistic creation of Bangladeshi weavers flourished as DhakaiJamdani/ Dhakai industry.

Until early sixties, individual tailors made garments as per specifications provided by individual customers who supplied the fabrics. The domestic market for readymade garment, excepting children wears and men's knit underwear (genji) was virtually non-existent in Bangladesh until the sixties. The saga of the apparel industry began back in early 1980s when Bangladesh was struggling to stand upright at a time as the economy of the war-torn country was in shambles. Visionary NuroolQuader Khan planted the seed of this industry which like a banyan tree has become a major shadow and shelter-giver to this country. He envisioned a country with industrial development and sent 130 trainees to South Korea to attend the training program on how to produce readymade garments and with these skilled manpower set up the first export-oriented RMG factory “Desh Garments”. Following his footstep later on the late Akhter Mohammad Musa of Bond Garments, the late Mohammad Reazuddin of Reaz Garments, MdHumayun of Paris Garments, Engineer Mohammad Fazlul Azim of Azim Group, Major (Retd) Abdul Mannan of Sunman Group, M Shamsur Rahman of Stylecraft Limited, the first President of BGMEA, AM Subid Ali of Aristocrat Limited also came forward and established some of the first garment factories in Bangladesh.

Till the end of 1982, there were only 47 garment manufacturing units. The breakthrough occurred in 1984-85, when the number of garment factories increased to 587. The number of RMG factories shot up to around 4756 in FY 2020-21. Bangladesh is now the 2nd largest apparel exporters of the world, proudly holding the position for several years.

The growth of the industry in terms of number of units and employment generation is shown in table - 1 below:

Table 1: Growth of the industry and Employment:

Year Number of Garment Industries Employment in Million Workers
1983-84 134 0.04
1988-89 725 0.317
1993-94 1839 0.827
1998-99 2963 1.5
2003-04 3957 2
2008-09 4925 3.5
2013-14 4222 4
2018-19 4621 4
2020-21 4756 4

The industry had to withstand storms from time to time. Defying various odds the RMG industry carved a niche in the global apparel market and secured a glorious position as the second largest readymade garment exporter in the world.It is not only contributing to Bangladesh’s economic development but also making a difference to millions of workers employed in the sector in terms of their rights and well-being.From phase-out of the Multi Fibre Arrangement (MFA), child-labour elimination in 1994, tragic building collapse incident of 2013, and now Covid-19; the industry has been time tested.

The development of this industry in meeting compliance issues has been recognized internationally as well. The QIMA (Hong Kong based Quality Control Supply Chain Audits) in their Q2 barometer report of 2020 has ranked Bangladesh 2nd in ethical manufacturing. The parameters to measure the ethical audit include: 1. Hygiene, health and safety, 2. Waste management, 3. Child and young labor, 4. Labor practices, including forced labour, worker representation, disciplinary practices and discrimination, 5. Working hours and wages. This report has indicated the accountability and acceptability of our RMG industry in terms of maintaining ethical issues in overall manufacturing process.

Along with meeting the safety and compliance standards, Bangladesh RMG industry is proactively moving towards green industrialization and environmental sustainability. We are in the leading position in the world in terms of green industrialization. Bangladesh has the highest number of green factories with 145 factories LEED certified by the USGBC, of which 42 are Platinum and 89 Gold rated. Besides, 500 more garment factories are in the process of being LEED certified. Amongst the 100 world's highest rated LEED-certified factories 40 factories originated from Bangladesh. BGMEA has been honored with the “2021 USGBC Leadership Award” for its exemplary leadership in developing Bangladesh as the home of the highest number of green garment factories in the world. BGMEA has also joined the UNFCCC, the German Green Button initiative, and circular fashion project with GFA to attain environmental sustainability at the industry level.

Table 2: Sector Profile, 2020-21 FY

No. of export oriented garments industries 4756
Total garments export 31.45 billion $
% of total exports 81 %
Labor force 4 million
% contribution to GDP 11.17%
% of value addition 64.98%
Major products Trouser, T-shirts & knitted shirt, Sweater, Shirt & blouses, Underwear
Major markets EU, USA, Canada
No of textile units Yarn Manufacturing – 433
Fabric Manufacturing – 827
Dyeing-printing-finishing – 251
Investment Over 20 billion $
Exports of Textile (Chapter 63) 1132.03 million $ (2020-21)
Exports of Jute & Jute goods (Chapter 53) 1161.48 million $ (2020-21)

Table 3: BGMEA member factories

Year Number of garment factory under BGMEA
2012 3764
2013 3904
2014 4116
2015 4253
2016 4413
2017 4530
2018 4594
2019 4669
2020 4708


Table 4: RMG Export growth in 2020-21

Market Share of RMG RMG export growth (Value in Billion USD) Growth (Y-O-Y)
EU 61.77% 19.43 billion USD 13.32%
USA 18.90% 5.95 billion USD 15.54%
Canada 3.16% 995.59 million USD 13.62%
Non-traditional 16.16% 5.08 billion USD 6.36%
Total 31.46 billion USD 12.55%

Ready Made Garment (RMG) Industry in Bangladesh

The readymade garments industry acts as a catalyst for the development of Bangladesh. The "Made in Bangladesh" tag has also brought glory for the country, making it a prestigious brand across the globe. Bangladesh, which was once termed by cynics a "bottomless basket" has now become a "basket full of wonders." The country with its limited resources has been maintaining more than 7% annual average GDP growth rate (5% Even during Covid-19) and has brought about remarkable social and human development.

After the independence in 1971, Bangladesh was one of poorest countries in the world. No major industries were developed in Bangladesh, when it was known as East Pakistan, due to discriminatory attitude and policies of the government of the then West Pakistan. So, rebuilding the war-ravaged country with limited resources appeared to be the biggest challenge.

The industry that has been making crucial contribution to rebuilding the country and its economy is none other than the readymade garment (RMG) industry which is now the single biggest export earner for Bangladesh. The sector accounts for 81% of total export earnings of the country.

Main Export Market:

According to the statistics of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Bangladesh’s global clothing export market share has increased to 6.80 percent in the last year which was 6.40 percent in 2018.

At the same time, Vietnam’s clothing export share has remained unchanged at 6.20 percent, however, the country has registered an annual growth of 8.0 percent in exports, compared to about 2.0 percent growth in garment exports from Bangladesh.


Top Apparel Exporters of the world

Bangladeshi garments sector earns a lot of reputation from foreign garment buyers. It can provide a higher quality product at a convenient price than other garments manufacturing countries. As a result, high ranked buyers from all parts of the world are so much interested in place order here throughout the year.

Major Garment Buyers of Bangladesh:

Normally it’s seen that buyers of Europe, Canada, the USA, Japan, Australia, and India are the main buyers of Bangladeshi garments and Textile products. Among them here is some of the buyers’ which are too much important for our Bangladeshi clothing and Textile products.

  1. Adidas
  2. H&M
  3. C&A
  4. Marks & Spenser
  5. Inditex
  6. Bestseller
  7. Wal-Mart
  8. GAP
  9. World Disney
  10. Levi’s (Brand: Docker, Denizer, Levi-Strauss)
  11. Nike
  12. VF Asia (Brand: Lee, Wrangler)
  13. PVH-Phillips Von Heuson (Brand: CK)
  14. Li & Fung
  15. Old Navy
  16. US Polo
  17. American Eagle
  18. Hugo Boss
  19. Esprit, Mango
  20. Puma and more…

Women in the garment industry

For a developing country like Bangladesh, where women’s decision making power in the family is often dependent on the financial contribution made through her work; I think the ready-made garment industry has brought a revolution here in terms of women empowerment. Throughout the last 40 years, this sector has benefited millions of women, who, if not, would be considered as a burden to the family. The job gives them ample opportunity to enjoy the taste of economic freedom and liberty. Apart from being able to financially contribute to the family, garment sector significantly contribute in enhancing their ability to take part in decision making, coping capacity to sudden shocks and access to resources as they want. Women, who especially belong to the rural poor income group, frequently go through social oppression and economic inequality because of the patriarchal mind-set of our society. Better than any other sector, RMG has created a platform for women from this cohort to engage in productive role which contributes directly in elevating poverty and uplifting livelihood status.

Today, among the 4.1 million employed workers, around 70% are women. Since the inception period, this industry has been dominated by female workers. One of the main reasons behind this feminization of garment work is that this sector first provided the opportunity to be formally employed for the poor, young, un-skilled or semi-skilled and sometimes illiterate set of people. Measures and actions taken by factories under the supervision of BGMEA like Anti-sexual harassment committee, health and safety protocol, revised wage scale, dipping gender inequality has also encouraged them to be a part of the sector.

As a leading trade association, BGMEA is working relentlessly to strengthen our commitment towards the industry. Ensuring female participation in the higher and mid-level (as CAD operator, supervisor, and Virtual Prototyping machine operator) is one of the most important agenda of ours. With the support of Govt. and donor organizations, BGMEA is pushing this agenda across the industry and ensure higher female representation in the top level management.

About the BGMEA

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) is one of the largest trade associations in the country representing the readymade garment industry, particularly the woven garments, knitwear and sweater sub-sectors with equal importance. Starting its journey in 1983 today BGMEA takes care of an industry that is at the backbone of Bangladesh’s economy. Since the inception, BGMEA is dedicated to promote and facilitate the apparel industry through policy advocacy to the government, services to members, ensuring workers’ rights and social compliance at factories. BGMEA collaborates with local and international stakeholders, including brands and development partners to pave the way for development of Bangladesh apparel industry.

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Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA)

is the national trade organization representing Yarn, Fabric Manufacturers and Textile Product Processors mills of the country under private sector. BTMA has been registered in 1983 with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies as an Association, not for profit, under the Companies Act 1994.

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Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association, BKMEA

Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association, BKMEA; the Apex Trade Body to represent solely the Knitwear Sector of Bangladesh stands out in the global panorama with distinct identity and stature. BKMEA adheres to innovation and creativity so that the sector based policy-making process becomes realistically and strategically perfect and gives off the result that expedites its developmental phase.

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