Factories inside the Cumilla Export Processing Zone have registered excellent export growth by fetching $751 million over the last 15 months when the pandemic raged, riding on uninterrupted production in compliance with health safety guidelines.
They exported $565 million worth of goods in FY21 in contrast to $464 million earned in FY20. In the first three months of the current fiscal year, their export receipts amounted to $185 million, according to Cumilla EPZ sources.
In FY19, the EPZ raked in $490 million in export earnings.
The EPZ authorities have put this impressive export figure down to the continuation of factory operations by maintaining Covid-19 protocols, arranging lunch in different shifts to ensure physical distancing, and 14-day quarantine for workers who fell sick.
Besides, a hospital inside the EPZ has recently been built to ensure proper healthcare facilities for employees.
The Cumilla EPZ, established in 2000 on some 267 acres of land, has 48 factories. Some 27 are foreign companies in the A category, 13 domestic and foreign companies in the B category and eight domestic companies in the C category.
The zone has been playing a significant role in generating jobs as most of 40,183 workers in the EPZ are Bangladeshi, of whom, almost 70% are from Cumilla. More than 59% of the workforce are women.
Factories in the EPZ manufacture readymade garments, garment accessories, sweaters, yarns, fabrics, textile dyes and auxiliaries, plastic products, electronics parts, footwear, sportswear, camera cases, eyeglasses and bags. The products are exported to the European Union, the United States, China, Japan, and Sri Lanka.
The other side of the coin
Despite the growing trend, the EPZ authorities have expressed dissatisfaction regarding the lack of expansion the export processing zone has seen in the last 21 years.
They said the EPZ is short of at least 200 acres of land, considering the existing demand.
Ashaque Mohammed Shahadat Hossain, director (Labour, IR) at the Cumilla EPZ, believes expanding the EPZ would create employment opportunities for 50,000 more people and women would be the prime beneficiaries.
Of late, several multi-storied buildings are being constructed around the EPZ, which will make future expansions difficult, he added.
Zillur Rahman, general manager at the EPZ, said, "Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority does not have the jurisdiction to expand the Cumilla EPZ or open another export processing zone in Cumilla. We have to depend on a decision from the government regarding these things."
The EPZ also suffers from the lack of skilled labour as the existing vocational training system in Cumilla is not sufficient to train workers. Owing to the lack of good accommodation in Cumilla, workers from other districts also feel reluctant to come and work here.
As a result, most organisations functioning in the EPZ train their workers separately, which is time-consuming and affects production.
The EPZ workers also have to deal with regular inconveniences when it comes to commuting as most factories do not provide vehicles for the workers. The traffic congestion also makes it doubly difficult for the workers and it also hampers product deliveries.