IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, brought together around 40 development partners, global apparel brands, industry representatives and financial intermediaries for a virtual dialogue to assess the reconstruction of Bangladesh’s readymade garments sector in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The textile sector contributes one-fifth of the country’s GDP and more than four-fifths of its export earnings, while directly employing more than 4.5 million people, mostly women. However, the industry is facing significant challenges from the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) have advised all garment factories to remain closed until April 25. According to BGMEA, as of April 22, almost $3.2 billion of orders had been canceled or suspended, affecting over 2.3 million workers of 1,144 factories.

“COVID-19 has impacted our industry and our workers. As we move forward, we must work together to overcome this crisis,” said Rubana Huq, President of BGMEA. “Only when we stand together, can we rise and shape tomorrow for the better.”

IFC aims to help tackle these challenges by bringing partners together to discuss the immediate challenges as well as build on opportunities in the post-COVID recovery stage. During the dialogue, a consensus was built on the need for strong partnerships, including multi-stakeholder and multilateral cooperation. Participants also stressed that the industry needs product, market and sectoral diversification, more structured access to finance, and enhanced emphasis on sustainability.

“We have an opportunity to reassess, reset, and reshape Bangladesh’s apparel sector. It is time to rewire the system to recover and remain competitive,” said Nishat Shahid Chowdhury, Program Manager for Partnership for Cleaner Textile, advisory project of IFC.

Wendy Werner, IFC Country Manager for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, launched the first dialogue of a series. It was moderated by Dr. Ahsan Mansur, Executive Director, Policy Research Institute. Participants included Winnie Estrup Peterson, Ambassador to the Royal Danish Embassy; Harry Verweij, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Netherlands; Charlotta Schlyter, Ambassador to the Embassy of Sweden; high officials from Embassy of United States, Germany, and Spain, as well as representatives from multilateral agencies. Members of international brands also attended along with BGMEA and senior officials of the World Bank Group.