Feature: In Bangladesh, HK cap giant pulls shared prosperity out of a hat

Updated: April 17, 2023 Source: Xinhua News Agency
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HONG KONG, April 16 (Xinhua) -- At a factory about 45 minutes of drive away from the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, tens of thousands of workers are busy on the production line, churning out over 200,000 hats each day for export to destinations around the globe.

Founded by Hong Kong entrepreneur Pauline Ngan Po-ling, this plant is named Unimas Sportswear Limited, a Bangladesh-based plant of Mainland Headwear Holdings Limited, one of the world's largest headwear producers.

The company started up in 1992 in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, a pilot city for China's reform and opening up policy. In 2000, it was listed in Hong Kong, where Ngan was born. She established the Bangladeshi factory in 2013 in light of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Keen to grasp the opportunities to expand overseas presented by the BRI for labor-intensive manufacturers, she decided to relocate the factory's main production line to Bangladesh, which is a major global textile processing and exporting country with abundant young and skilled labor.

Back then, the poverty-stricken village formerly known as Bagbari had almost impassable roads for vehicles during the long monsoon season when people had to turn to ox carts. Vast stretches of land were left barren, where wolves roamed at night with howls echoing through the air.

"Power outages occurred 20 to 30 times a day, and 90 percent of our employees were even unable to write their own names," Ngan said in an interview with Xinhua. "It's a long journey for us to have come this far."

Ngan and her team started developing the area by drilling wells, building roads, and establishing a stable power supply. For two years straight, they worked tirelessly to build a modern production base in the barren wilderness.

What started as a small factory with a hundred employees has now grown into a modern facility with thousands of workers. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company's net profit maintained an annual growth rate of 50 percent. Next month, Mainland Headwear's fourth-phase factory in Bangladesh will be fully operational, with a total floor area of over 90,000 square meters.

"The rapid development of the company is due to the benefits of the BRI," Ngan said.

Bangladesh has been an important participant in the BRI since 2016, and China has invested in and constructed a series of major projects in areas such as infrastructure and energy in the South Asian country.

Infrastructure cooperation has accelerated, as roads, bridges, and power stations have mushroomed. Last year, the Chinese-built Padma Bridge opened to traffic, which Ngan said could benefit one-fifth of the country's 170 million population.

"Where roads are built, wealth builds up," Ngan said that over a hundred containers are shipped from the factory to the port every month, and the travel time has been reduced from 17 hours to just four and a half hours, thanks to significantly improved infrastructure.

The village has also undergone a dramatic transformation. From a population of less than 400, it has grown into a prosperous town with nearly 40,000 residents.

Due to its good working environment and high salaries, Unimas Sportswear has become a go-to employer in the area. Ngan has established a poverty-alleviation fund for the construction of local markets and orphanages, adding to the firm's popularity and local people's well-being.

On holidays, Ngan would put on the traditional Bangladeshi costume and celebrate with locals. For 10 years, the company has been giving out lucky bags to its employees regularly. The bags contain rice, flour, sugar and oil, as well as soap, which is considered a "premium product" by the locals.

"Bangladesh holds a special place in my heart as my third homeland, and its people are my fellow folks," she said.

In 2017, the Bangladeshi authorities officially named the booming village after the company.

Ngan's story is a testament to the power of entrepreneurship and the opportunities presented by the BRI. By investing in a poverty-stricken village in Bangladesh, she not only transformed the lives of the locals but also created a successful business that has become an integral part of the global supply chain.

In September of this year, Ngan said she will be invited to share her entrepreneurial experiences with university students in Hong Kong. She has also prepared 20 to 30 places for Hong Kong students to intern at the factory in Bangladesh.

"The BRI provides greater space for entrepreneurship, and Hong Kong youth should heed and seize the new opportunities," she said. 

Editor: Su Dan