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Effects of Labor Laws and Costly Credit on Garment Exports
Lately, India’s apparel sector has seen an export boom, driven by growing demand from all major markets, including the United States and the European Union. With large orders pouring in, apparel has become one of the country’s fastest growing export sectors. Due to its high quality garments, India has become one of the preferred sourcing destinations for several brands like Zara, H&M, Mango, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. However, the country’s inflexible labor laws and expensive credit are proving to be major obstacles for the sector, especially when it comes to exports.
Strict labor laws affecting investors
The strict labor laws in force in the country have created great apprehension among garment manufacturers. They believe that the older they get, the harder it is to run a business. It should be noted that clothing is one of the most labor-intensive sectors in the country after agriculture. Therefore, the impact is greater on this segment than on others due to strict labor laws. More than 8 million workers are employed by the sector, 70% of whom are women. Often, companies are closed without prior approval from the authorities, which deprives workers of their legal contributions.
Take for example the Factories Act of 1948. This law even limits a voluntary worker to work beyond 48 hours per week. This not only reduces the production capacity, but also its income. India’s loss is its competitors’ gain. Although labor costs are higher in China, its flexible work rules, lower credit costs, subsidized electricity and better infrastructure have propelled its garment sector and exports. The Bangladesh government’s bilateral treaties with European nations and other countries around the world have enabled buyers to import garments from the country without any import duties.
High credit costs are hurting India
Higher credit costs are also hurting India’s garment exports. While the cost of credit in India hovers around 11-12%, the same is around 3-5% in rival countries. Electricity shortages in states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, where many garment export businesses are located, are also hurting these businesses. In these states, high labor costs have reduced the competitiveness of the industry to a large extent.
The way forward and the challenges
However, apparel exports have recently started to pick up, helped by several external factors. According to data from the Apparel Export Promotion Council, India’s apparel exports to the EU increased by 5.9% year-on-year between January and May 2013, while those from Bangladesh and China decreased by 1.8% and 9.7% respectively during the same period. The rise of the yuan against the dollar and the social unrest in Bangladesh worked in favor of India. Importers are now keen to buy from India rather than Bangladesh due to security concerns and the overall stability that India offers.
The Indian government has taken initiatives to attract investment in the sector. However, India needs to find a way to relax its labor rules in order to give the sector a competitive edge.
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