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‘Apparel industry needs to focus on ethical, sustainable labour practices’

  • Published at 03:01 pm October 6th, 2021
RMG apparel
Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

According to a Business Insider report published in April last year, shoppers want more than just quality and are often looking for products and brands that align with their social and environmental values

The apparel industry of Bangladesh needs to be more focused on ethical and sustainable labour practices and manufacturing to compete with the competitive global market.

The country needs to focus on these as the demand for ethical and sustainable work practices are increasing in response to incidents like wage underpayments, harmful working conditions, child labour, forced labour, human trafficking, and also the Covid-19 pandemic.

Talking to Dhaka Tribune, experts noted that competing with other countries in RMG with cheap labour won’t cut it in the future. 

According to a Business Insider report published in April last year, shoppers want more than just quality and are often looking for products and brands that align with their social and environmental values. 

The fashion industry is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to pollution and many people are willing to change their habits for the better. 

According to experts and industry insiders, ethical and sustainable work practices mean engaging in work practices that are legal, fair and ensure decent treatment of the workforce by providing conditions that do not cause physical or mental harm to workers. 

This also includes meeting minimum employment standards and engaging in work practices that meet current needs in a durable and lasting way that does not compromise the future of business and/or industry.

Sayema Haque Bidisha, research director of the SANEM told Dhaka Tribune: “Now, we have to focus on sustainability and risk reduction. Steps must be taken to make sure that momentum is not hampered” she said. 

“RMG has given enough to the economy. Competition is getting tougher in the international market. So, diversification and ethical response to production could be adopted for future sustainability rather than exploiting cheap labour,” she added.

Americans are seeking out and are willing to pay a premium for environmentally friendly products, according to a new study from GreenPrint, an environmental technology company. 

The first-ever edition of the company’s Business of Sustainability Index found that 64% of Americans are willing to pay more for sustainable products but 74% don’t know how to identify them. 

According to the findings, 78% of people are more likely to purchase a product that is clearly labelled as environmentally friendly.

Professor of Economics at the University of Dhaka Muhammad Shahadat Hossain Siddiquee said in a post-Covid economy, the situation would be challenging if research and development policy was not being adopted with fair labour practices. “Product diversification is key to long-term trade as well. 

In an op-ed piece published on Dhaka Tribune, Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said that the RMG sector had to change, not only to catch up with the ever-evolving fashion and technology trends, but also to comply with international business standards and labour policy, and also to fulfil the expectations of more ethical, more environmentally conscious brands and consumers.

“Thanks to its high level of adaptability, Bangladesh’s RMG industry can today boast of having been transformed into a state-of-the-art, safe, secured and green hub of sustainable and ethical manufacturing,” he added.

A recent survey report unveiled by Hong Kong-based supply chain compliance solutions provider QIMA ranked Bangladesh second in “Ethical Manufacturing” with a score of 7.7, only behind Taiwan, which scored 8.0. 

The World Economic Forum, in one of its articles, quoted a survey that says 66% of all respondents, and 75% of millennial respondents, said they consider sustainability when making a purchase. 

In China, 41% of consumers say that they want eco-friendly products.

“Bangladesh has 148 LEED Green factories certified by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Among these, 44 are Platinum rated and 91 are Gold rated. Moreover, 40 out of the top 100 green factories of the world belong to Bangladesh.

“It proves that the focus drive of the industry is in the area of environmental sustainability,” the BGMEA president said.

In another statement on October 2, BGMEA president said, while the country is taking many steps and investing to make the industry and the supply chain sustainable, the price of clothes in the United States fell by 8.04% in one year. 

“I would also like to request all of us to try to diversify our capacity. We should not be limited to a few products because the over-capacity is one of the biggest weaknesses,” he added. 

Maintaining the minimum wage is also an important element of ethical labour practices. Due to the increased purchase orders, the apparel factories of the country are taking a large number of new labourers. 

In this regard, Mohiuddin Rubel, director of the BGMEA told Dhaka Tribune that the apparel factories are maintaining the wages and even paying more to get skilled labourers.

“Most of the apparel factories are abiding by minimum wage. We do not have any written complaint about any factories who don’t maintain this. If we see anything, we will surely take steps,” he added.

Salauddin Swapan, acting president of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) said that Bangladesh is moving forward in terms of ethical labour policy and there is also room for more prosperity.

“The minimum wage policy is followed by most of the factories. A few factories do not comply, but they are not members of any apparel body and are not affiliated with any large labour federation. So, it is difficult to take action against them,” he added.

The apparel sector earns more than 80% of export earnings. It earned $31.45 billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which is a 12.55% year-on-year growth.

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