Nepal is one of many developing South Asian countries that plays a substantial role in the global ready-made garment industry. These mass-produced textiles have become a staple export from Nepal, but they have also normalized the unethical practices of fast-fashion chains within the country. Over the last two decades, Nepal has struggled to regulate both economic and ethical issues within the garment industry, but the last few years have produced a shift towards a brighter future for garment workers. Here are six facts about the history of the garment industry in Nepal and the efforts to address both the problems of fast-fashion chains and the country’s economic reliance on them.
6 Facts About the Garment Industry in Nepal
- In the 1980s, the garment industry in Nepal boomed because of interest and funding from Indian exporters. Due to the product quota limits in India, exporters looked to Nepal to increase their production. This expanded production served to boost not only Nepal’s economy but also its reach on the global production scale. Thus, Nepal became a viable option for countries to produce and export various textiles.
- In 2004, intense competition in the global garment market broke out after the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Textiles and Clothing expired. Nepal struggled to outproduce their competition and subsequently saw a fall in revenue from garment exports. The Multi-Fiber Agreement, an international trade agreement that allowed duty-free access to the U.S. for Nepal, also fell through in 2005 and further exacerbated the country’s declining international revenue.
- The international economic aftermath of 9/11 also negatively affected the U.S.’s reliance on the garment industry in Nepal. The U.S. was the recipient of 87% of Nepal’s readymade garments until 2002. In subsequent years, Europe, Canada, Australia, and India have become the largest markets for Nepali garments, making up 90% of the country’s exports.
- In the 2018 fiscal year, the garment industry in Nepal hit a new high. The industry made approximately RS 6.34 billion (approximately $84.9 million), up 6.52% from the previous year. Despite this rise in revenue, Nepal had exported fewer garments than it had the year before.
- Chandi Prasal Aryal, president of the Garment Association of Nepal, claimed that the financial growth was due to a shift from quantity to quality. By focusing on producing better garments instead of more garments, other countries were willing to pay extra for better products. Because of the fine quality of the exports, those same countries are now willing to buy even more of the pricier garments.
- The focus on quality over quantity changes the focus of the garment industry in Nepal. Instead of relying on fast fashion practices that prioritize creating as many items as possible within a set amount of time, the industry can now shift to more ethical work forms. Thus, the quality of the garments will continue to improve and raise the value of each item, bringing more money back into the Nepali economy.
The exact reach and impact that the garment industry has had on Nepalese poverty remains unclear, but the future looks bright. The Nepalese government reports that employment data within the garment industry is “not readily available” but at the peak of its power, the garment industry employed 12% of the overall labor pool of the Nepalese manufacturing sector. As of 2019, the World Bank calculates the poverty line in Nepal to be $1.90 per person per day. Nepal lacked substantial policy in terms of a minimum wage, but the Library of Congress reports that since 2016, Nepalese workers across industries now make a minimum wage of approximately $3.74 per person per day. The modern garment industry, regulated with a minimum wage, can help lift Nepalese workers above the poverty line of the country, even if the garment industry of the past once presented a potential hurdle.
There still exists substantial work to transform the garment industry in Nepal into both a thriving industry and an equally ethical one; the country is making the first successful steps towards achieving both. This change will provide garment industry employees a better quality of life, as well as ensure that they and their families receive fair treatment.
– Nicolette Schneiderman
Photo: UN Multimedia