Foreign companies with nationals working in Bangladesh’s garment and building industries have suspended travel to the country and told workers to stay at home after a deadly attack by Islamic militants on a restaurant in Dhaka.
The hospitality sector is also seeing cancellations, hotels are tightening security and foreign embassies are looking at reducing staffing after the attack on Friday claimed the lives of nine Italians, seven Japanese, an American, an Indian and some Bangladeshi nationals.
Fast Retailing, the Japanese owner of the Uniqlo casual-wear brand, said it would suspend all but critical travel to Bangladesh and has told staff to stay indoors.
Bangladesh’s $26bn garment industry has been bracing itself for the fallout of Friday’s killings, fearing major retailers could rethink their sourcing plans after the latest attack targeting foreigners.
Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries, relies on garments for about 80% of its exports and for about 4 million jobs,. It ranks behind only China as a supplier of clothes to developed markets such as Europe and the United States.
Uniqlo has 10 Japanese staff in Bangladesh, one of its major production hubs outside China, and was among the first to confirm it would tighten travel restrictions already in place after attacks last year.
Shovon Islam, the head of Sparrow Group, which supplies brands including Marks & Spencer and Gap, said: “Obviously this is generating a lot of concern with all the brands my company works with.”
He said that after a foreigner was killed in Bangladesh last year, some overseas companies pared back travel to the country and asked for meetings to be held in Bangkok, New Delhi or Hong Kong instead.
Islam said: “This time the intensity of the threat is much higher and we will definitely see companies altering their plans.”
Sudhir Dhingra, the head of Orient Craft based in the Indian city of Gurgaon, said: “There’ll definitely be an impact on the garment industry. I was just speaking to a top label which said its official who was supposed to visit Bangladesh to inspect an order has refused to go.”
Bangladesh garment exporters who dealt with some of those killed in the attack were still coming to terms with what has happened. “I was doing business with six of the nine Italians who died. It’s shocking and heartbreaking,” said Meshba Uddin Ali, the managing director of Wega Fashion Sweater.
Amos Ho, a senior manager at Pou Chen, one of the world’s largest makers of trainers for brands such as Nike, Adidas and Puma, said: “We’ve urged our employees to be cautious. They have to pay attention to their personal safety.”
Industry analysts have suggested clothing brands may now consider shifting out of Bangladesh to less unsettled countries in Asia, such as Cambodia and Sri Lanka. No major companies have yet signalled official plans.
“There are no plans on changing any sourcing, but we are following developments closely,” Sweden’s H&M said in a statement echoed by other big retailers.
TheUS and British embassies in Bangladesh may reduce staff numbers, one diplomatic source said, and ask only essential staff to stay on.
The Japanese construction companies Obayashi and Shimizu, which both have more than a dozen employees working on bridge projects in Bangladesh, said they had advised staff to stay indoors.
At least two five-star hotels in Dhaka that cater primarily to business clients said they had received cancellations since Friday’s attack. “Whenever people book it’s usually within two or three days of their visit to Dhaka and now nobody is doing any bookings at all,” said a source at one of the hotels, adding that this week was typically quiet due to the upcoming Eid celebrations.