INDUSTRIALISATION in Bangladesh has been worryingly marked by the absence of inclusive and consistent policies since independence. While Bangladesh has made some remarkable advancement in the industrial sector, with its contribution standing at slightly less than a third of the gross domestic product, it has failed to diversify export-oriented industrialisation. A lack of comprehensive and consistent policies, proper implementation of the policies and a near-blind subscription to policy prescriptions by international financial institutions are said to have led to such a lopsided development. In export-oriented industries, Bangladesh has for about 40 years been dependent on the highly subsidised apparel sector while the country has failed to cash in on other industries such as pharmaceutical, leather, jute, processed food and others that had, and still have, the potential to compete on the global market. Compared with its East Asian neighbours like Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand — countries that had similar economic condition and industrialisation even in the 1990s — Bangladesh has not been able to attain the desirable pace in industrialisation. Vietnam’s annual export now stands at about $270 billion and Bangladesh’s at $40 billion while both countries had similar export volume in 1990.
The development of the apparel sector as the major manufacturing industry has also been a contested model. While the industry has developed in a favourable global condition, it has developed at the cost of labour rights as the industry largely stands on exploited cheap labour. Besides, the industry has confined itself to low-end products of a limited range and has not diversified as much as is expected of an industry in operation for more than 40 years. Other industries, large and small, which had high export potential, have remained confined to the domestic market in the absence of inclusive industrial policy and government facilitation. Bangladesh inherited 77 jute mills, about 80 textiles mills, 10 sugar mills and some steel mills in 1971 and nationalised them. But since the late 1970s and the early 1980s, when neoliberal policies with an emphasis on privatisation and consequent structural adjustments came to shape the developing and peripheral economies, Bangladesh appears not to have followed an industrial policy that could best serve the country, its economy and people’s interests. Successive governments have, rather, followed an industrial development policy that has served the global capital at the expense of people’s rights to well-being.
The government must, therefore, now rethink and redesign its industrialisation goals from a people’s perspective. The government must follow an industrial policy that serves the needs of diversification of export-oriented industries without compromising people’s interests. The government must also realise that industrial development at the expense of people’s well-being and the environment will not sustain. The government must develop knowledge capital and human capital for a sustainable growth of the industrial sector.
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