July 16, 2010
Bangladesh, With Low Pay, Moves In on China
GAZIPUR, Bangladesh — The eight-lane highway leading from the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, narrows
repeatedly as it approaches this town about 30 miles north, eventually depositing cars onto a muddy,
potholed lane bordered by mangroves and small shops.
But this is no mere rural backwater. It is the sort of place to which foreign manufacturers may increasingly
turn, if the rising wage demands of factory workers in
prompt companies to seek new pools of cheap
Already, in factories behind steel gates and tall concrete walls, tens of thousands of workers, most of them
women, spend their days stitching T-shirts, pants and sweaters for
retailers and brands.
One of the Bangladeshi companies here, the DBL Group, employs 9,000 people making T-shirts and other
knitwear. Business has been so good that the company is finishing a new 10-story building with open floors
the size of soccer fields, planted with row after row of sewing machines.
“Our family needed the money, so we came here,” said Maasuda Akthar, a 21-year-old sewing machine
operator for DBL.
As costs have risen in China, long the world’s shop floor, it is slowly losing work to countries like
Vietnam and Cambodia — at least for cheaper, labor-intensive goods like casual clothes, toys and simple
electronics that do not necessarily require literate workers and can tolerate unreliable transportation systems
and electrical grids.
Li & Fung, a Hong Kong company that handles sourcing and apparel manufacturing for companies like Wal-
, reported that its production in Bangladesh jumped 20 percent last year, while China,
its biggest supplier, slid 5 percent.
The flow of jobs to poorer countries like Bangladesh started even before recent labor unrest in China led to