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5.2.2: Colonialism, Capitalism and the State: The case of Bangladesh
Friday, 04/June/2021:
12:30pm - 2:00pm

Session Chair: Marie Gagné
Technical chair: Liam Swiss
Location: Room 2


Development, Democracy, and the Environment: Contested Energy Future in Bangladesh

M. Omar Faruque

Queen's University, Canada

Bangladesh adopted a long-term economic plan in 2010 to be a middle-income country by 2021 and a high-income country by 2041. It identified rapid and diverse industrialization as a critical driver of accelerated economic growth. Accordingly, the government prepared a power sector master plan (2016-2041) to meet this goal, which stipulated increased use of coal for power generation (35 percent of the planned power capacity). It commissioned several large coal-fired power plants, now at various stages of construction. These policy changes were also the reflection of a growing influence of its development financiers, particularly China and Japan. Both countries have an enormous impact on the policymaking and financing of projects in the energy sector. Since 2011, this fossil fuel-based development intervention has generated vibrant environmental mobilizations contesting the government’s approach to a sustainable energy future, which civil society groups argue, is devoid of the democratic process of accountability, transparency, and deliberation. There is a growing demand both globally and locally for countries to move towards renewable and low-carbon energy future gradually. Bangladeshi policymakers are less committed to such a transition. How can we explain their rigidity? To what extent do the Bangladeshi political institutions explain the behaviour of the political and bureaucratic elites? This paper will draw on the institutional perspective of the political economy of development to analyze popular discontent over Bangladesh’s energy policy regime in the context of its political crisis (growing authoritarianism) and environmental crisis (climate change vulnerability). It will emphasize that the rent-seeking political behaviour affects the policymaking process, so much so that specific policy choices often reflect the entrenched interests of actors connected to the ruling elites. Therefore, its policymakers take a contradictory position: on the one hand they blame advanced industrial countries for Bangladesh's climate vulnerability while aggressively pursue fossil fuel-based energy future.

State-community Power Struggles in Forest Co-Management: The case of Rema-Kalenga Protected Area in Bangladesh

Sujoy Subroto1,3, Conny Davidsen1, AZM Manzoor Rashid2, Margarita Cuadra3

1Department of Geography, University of Calgary, Canada.; 2Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden.; 3Department of Forestry and Environmental Sciences, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet, Bangladesh.

Co-management models between local communities and the state have gained considerable attention over the past decades to address persistent challenges of protected area governance and reconcile ecological conservation with sustainable livelihoods and local development. This study examines how Bangladesh’s forest co-management structures have fared vis-à-vis continued asymmetrical power relationships between communities and the state in Bangladesh’s top-down forest governance system, specifically de facto forest governance structures in the case of Rema-Kalenga Wildlife Sanctuary and its larger landscape zone. Empirical data were collected based on an exploratory qualitative methodological focus and Lockwood’s four good governance principles were adopted as an analytical framework which was further supplemented by Agrawal and Ribot’s power typology. Our findings reveal that Rema-Kalenga’s regional forest actors have been struggling to develop a shared understanding regarding the goals and distribution of power in protected area co-management. The study points toward two developments: First, a low realized level of devolution as Rema-Kalenga’s co-management institutions operate as mere unpaid ‘helpers’ under the shadow of the state’s centralized top-down governance in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Secondly, this study found signs of emerging dual governance in which local co-management institutions create their own spaces of engagement and de facto influence in the larger Rema-Kalenga landscape zone, in contrast to being visibly less functional in the core zone. Connections between these two spheres are sporadic, hampering ecosystem-approaches in Rema-Kalenga, and questioning the cohesiveness of co-management purposes in the studied area.

From colonialism to neoliberalism: Exploitation in Bangladesh's clothing industry

Nabila Idris

University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

In this paper, I draw parallels between the colonial exploitation of Bengal's textiles industry and the neoliberal exploitation of Bangladesh's garments industry, culminating in the pandemic.

From as early as the seventh century, Bengal has been renowned for its textiles. In the colonial era, the prototypical multinational, the British East India Company, systematically wrung the textiles industry dry by squeezing out weavers, controlling exports, and flooding the captured local market with inferior British goods. Its neoliberal successors continue the enterprise in today's Bangladesh, which is a major hub of the global garments supply chain. I particularly focus on two multistakeholder policy efforts to institutionalise labour-friendly social protection in the country between 2012-2019.

Based on an adapted political settlements approach, using data from over sixty elite interviews and the analysis of hundreds of internal government documents, this qualitative study unearths the complex system of power and economic relations spread across the globe that hamstrung efforts to improve Bangladeshi workers’ social protection. It reveals an incestuous overlap between state and business, the powerlessness of national governments in the face of multinational entities, and the fundamental weakness of labour as a viable force in neoliberal global capitalism.

The failure to extend social protection to workers would prove disastrous during the coronavirus pandemic as its absence allowed global clothing brands and local elites to force on the workers a stark choice between lives and livelihoods. As a result, Bangladeshi workers returned to factories a full month before the lockdown was eased. The study is significant because it shows how colonial exploitation has not disappeared but simply morphed in modern times. Truncated social protection agendas that exclude workers can easily progress unchallenged in developing countries and, as the pandemic reveals, prove fatal in the long run.