Bangladesh has achieved rapid economic growth in recent times and aims to become a middle-income country by 2021 [1
]. The garment industry has been a great engine for boosting economic growth in Bangladesh. The textile sector has contributed 82% of the country’s total export revenue—about 28 billion USD per year—and the export value of the ready-made garment (RMG) sector, the dominant sector in the textile industry, is projected to be about 50 billion USD per year by 2021 [2
]. However, with great success came environmental deterioration. Untreated effluent has been discharged into rivers from nearby textile factories, with several major sources of contaminants being outside the city areas, Gazipur, Tongi, Savar, and Ashulia [3
]. Figure 1
shows the location of the areas. According to the database of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, about 3000 garment factories are operating in Dhaka [5
].Wastewater from textile industries in Bangladesh was estimated to be about 217 million m3
in 2016, containing a wide range of pollutants, and will reach 349 million m3
by 2021 if the textile industries continue using conventional dyeing practices [2
]. Industrial wastes and effluents containing heavy metals such as vanadium, molybdenum, zinc, nickel, mercury, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium, and arsenic are being released in the vicinity of the industrial areas and this polluted river water is being used for irrigation purposes in paddy and vegetable (spinach, tomato, and cauliflower) cultivation fields near industrial areas in Gazipur and Keraniganj [6
]. Vegetable and fruit samples collected from around Savar, Dhamrai, and Tongi show the presence of textile dyes [7
]. Through the food chain, this affects the health of people who live along the polluted rivers. The incidence of illness among people living in Hazaribagh is reported 16% higher on average than those living in a control area [8
]. The polluted water causes harms such as painful skin disease, diarrhea, food poisoning, and gastrointestinal problems in the short-term, and serious health implications such as respiratory problems when toxic materials accumulate in the body in the long-term [7
]. The accumulated effect may not be limited to those dwelling around the industrial areas, but could also spread across cities through the poisoned vegetables sold at local markets. The overall impact of such harm to human health is still unknown.
The only way to solve the environmental pollution due to industrial effluents is to restrict the polluted discharge at the source. The existing law in Bangladesh, the Environmental Conservation Act (1995), requiring such factories to install an Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP), has not been effective in reducing environmental noncompliance. The ETP is a facility designed to clean industrial effluent for its reuse or safe disposal to the environment. It involves various physical, chemical, biological, and membrane mechanisms to treat waste water. Enforcement of the environmental legislation is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment (DoE), but it has failed to govern the situation although it is fully aware of the non-operation of installed ETPs [11
]. The reasons for the enforcement failure are insufficient resources (knowledge, human resources, and funds) [4
]; economic corruption [4
]; weak political will [4
]; and inadequate coordination among concerned agencies [14
]. Such lack of enforcement is common in developing countries [15
], and Bangladesh is no exception.
Empirical studies on monitoring and enforcement are essential to establish a way forward to mitigate the problem effectively. However, the available data is often quite limited in developed countries, and even more so in developing countries [16
]. The reluctance of stakeholders to participate in surveys also greatly hinders researchers from undertaking studies on the subject. In the case of Bangladesh, the DoE has not been recording inspection results in a consistent manner [12
], nor sharing the existing data in a transparent way due to internal bureaucracy and pressure from industrial sectors to avoid interference in their business [13
]. Under these circumstances, the empirical studies regarding environmental compliance were often based on a very limited number of interviews between 11–50 [4
]. In a unique approach, Haque [13
] collected news articles published from 2011–2016 about fines levied for water pollution by the DoE and created a dataset with 290 records of fines, of which 255 were from the textile industries. Analysis of the penalties revealed that the mean fine amount was 1,965,000 Bangladesh Taka (BDT) (1 USD = 80 BDT), with a maximum of 30,000,000 BDT and a minimum of 10,000 BDT. The estimated annual operating cost for textile dyeing factory is around 13,350,000 BDT [13
] and is significantly higher than the average reported fine of 1,965,000 BDT. Moreover, the maximum fine was 3000 times the minimum fine; this suggests how randomly the fines are determined [13
]. As such, the penalty for non-compliance is quite inexpensive [20
] or even non-existent and, therefore, it is more economically efficient for factories to discharge untreated water and pay the fines [21
With this context in mind, this paper aims to investigate the real situations that textile industries face regarding environmental compliance. This study especially highlights the barriers and difficulties for factories in installing and operating ETPs. For the environmental pollution from the textile industry in Bangladesh, many studies have been done based on engineering aspects, but few are from a policy point of view, which includes studying barriers at the installation stage of the ETP. The scarcity of such studies stem from the difficulties of getting information from factories. We collected primary data from 23 textile factories in Dhaka through a questionnaire survey with complementary interviews. Combining information of the regulation set-ups and historical process of the problem, we tried to elucidate previously undiscussed drawbacks of the institutions. In the discussion section, to better understand the current situation of the textile industry in Bangladesh as well as to investigate possible solutions to the problem, we include a brief description of the Indian experience with a similar environmental issue that took place in the Indian tannery industry in the 1990s. Our results confirm previous findings about the causes of non-compliance; specifically, low willingness of companies to engage in environmental protection activities and inadequate monitoring and enforcement by government authorities. In addition, we reveal that the respondent textile companies believe the dominant barriers to ETP installation are at the import stage, rather than the construction stage: Unavailability of ETPs in local markets, a high import tax, and options limited by requirements imposed by foreign buyers of the textile outputs. The remedies undertaken by the Indian government resulted in the first central effluent treatment plant (CETP) being in operation just 10 years after the Water Act was adopted in 1981 (in Tamil Nadu state). In comparison, Bangladesh still has no CETPs operating, 24 years after the Environmental Conservation Act was adopted in 1995. Finally, we present recommendations for how Bangladesh can create a more sustainable environment in terms of water quality.
To better understand the current non-compliance situation in the textile industry in Bangladesh, primary data was collected from 23 textile companies. The results indicate that the low willingness of companies to engage in environmental protection activities is one root cause of the current environmental pollution. However, the survey results also revealed many possible drawbacks in the country’s institutions that did not motivate companies to comply with the environmental regulations: The high import tax, inadequate monitoring and enforcement by the government authority, and no explicit subsidy scheme (such as the one India institutionalized). All are due to the myopic view of the government in problem solving. Such an attitude might have hindered the domestic engineering sector from being capable of producing effluent treatment plants (ETPs) on their own. As a consequence, companies have to import machines and other resources, which require additional time and money and are viewed as barriers to installing ETPs by the textile companies. If the government had sought the technology transfer from abroad or any developed countries had offered technical support around the time when the High Court made its first judicial decision in 2001, then at least Savar would not be like it is today. They also could have learned good lessons from the adjacent country, India, which experienced a similar issue at the time.
We conclude that external pressure is essential for Bangladesh to change. Foreign buyers and international society have been applying pressure, but the present situation tells us that it has not been enough. Our suggested solution is that foreign buyers, individual countries, or international society should have a certain objective measure to determine the situation. The quality of the river water might be one candidate if environmental non-compliance cannot be investigated by checking products individually or effective monitoring cannot be expected. It is also reasonable to consider the characteristics of the industry structure, where many small companies are under the umbrella of the major companies. The complete information about their contribution to the industry may be hard to obtain. In such a situation, the institutionalized monitoring itself would be difficult. Improving the quality of the river water is not easy and will take time because it requires the collective action of the whole industry. But it would not take as long a time as the country has already spent, once the concerned bodies treat the issue seriously. History has already proved this.