In the first days of his new government, Narendra Modi is under pressure to put a halt to the manufacture of clothes by Bangladesh’s garment factories.
But he is struggling to make the case for a shift away from this cycle of exploitation, and to find a way to improve the lives of Bangladeshis in the process.
A garment factory is a key part of the Bangladesh economy, accounting for about 10 percent of the country’s GDP.
It makes garments for domestic and international clients including Gap Inc. and Bottega Veneta.
The process is largely unregulated and, like most sectors, has become an important part of business for the companies that employ the workers.
It is also an area of intense debate in India, where the garment industry has been accused of being exploited by the government and by foreign brands.
The Bangladeshi government, however, says the process is “legal and sustainable” and has vowed to protect workers from abuses.
Modi’s new government has pledged to stop all foreign and domestic brands manufacturing in Bangladesh and has called for the elimination of the process altogether.
The country’s ruling Congress Party (CPI) has opposed the move, saying that a move to ban foreign and foreign-owned brands would make the country “uncompetitive” and could jeopardise its bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The government is currently working on a policy document on “ethical sourcing” and the process, but there has been no formal announcement of the move.
While the government is aiming to eliminate the process entirely, the impact of such a move will be felt by Bangladeshas already, with garment factories producing about 40 percent of all garments sold in the country.
The government has already cut imports of raw material from Bangladesh by more than 80 percent, according to the World Bank.
In response, the government has also proposed to set up a new “ecosystem” that will give Bangladesh a green light to continue with the garment manufacturing process, with the goal of halving its dependence on the process in the next 10 years.
In a speech to the government on Friday, Modi said the move was a “historic step”.
But many of his opponents argue that the move will do nothing to end the exploitation of Bangladesh’s workers.
They say that it will only put more pressure on garment factories to continue employing people.
“There is a lot of pressure to stop this,” said Manoj Gupta, a senior advocate at the Institute for Policy Research & Development (IPSD).
“The fact that he is taking this step is a very big setback.
It’s not like he’s taking it to solve the issue, it’s a huge setback.
He’s taking a step towards making things more difficult for people.”
A garment worker walks past a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on September 5, 2017.
The industry has seen a sharp rise in factory closures in recent years, according in part to the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a non-profit that works to protect the rights of workers.
The GAI said that the number of garment factories in Bangladesh had fallen by more then 50 percent in the past decade.
It said that some factories in Dhakarasand and other areas have been shut down for up to 15 years and that thousands of garment workers were laid off.
In May, the Supreme Court issued an order for a fresh round of audits by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) to examine how the process of sourcing clothes is going.
But, according a spokesperson for the ministry of environment and forests, the audits will take place over a period of two years.
“A new audit will be conducted after the two-year period has expired,” he told Al Jazeera.
“If we find any violations, the department will immediately issue notices and take corrective measures.”
A factory in Bangladesh, where some factories have been closed since 2014, on April 30, 2018.
A spokesperson for DIPP told AlJazeera that the audits are to determine whether there are “reasonable grounds to believe that the conditions in factories have changed, including changes in labour laws and practices”.
The spokesperson added that DIPP has been informed about the audits and will take action accordingly.
A DIPP spokesperson said the audits “will be conducted on a regular basis, based on the relevant data, to ascertain whether there is evidence of non-compliance”.
The government spokesperson told AlJeS that DIP is also conducting a special inspection of a number of factories in the district.
The spokesperson did not give a timeframe for when these inspections will take up.
In 2017, the GAI reported that in 2017, there were nearly 5,000 factories in a single district in Bangladesh.
The factories were responsible for manufacturing more than 100,000 garments and the majority of them were for men’s clothing.
Some of the factories were even used to produce garments for the garment market.
A worker inspects a garment at a garment manufacturer in Dhakhina district in Dhaunas district, Bangladesh.
A new report by