Bangladesh's apparel trade body has signed a collaboration agreement with Impactt, a London-based leading ethical trading consultancy, to improve productivity in the ready-made garment industry.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Impactt will roll out the 'Benefits for Business and Workers (BBW)' programme to around 200 industrial units in the Dhaka and Chittagong regions by December 2015.

The initiative has already improved efficiency and quality and supported better jobs for workers in 45 factories in the country.

"No garment producing country can survive without enhancing skill of workers and productivity at their factories," said Atiqul Islam, president of the BGMEA, adding that the collaboration marks an important new stage in the transformation of the Bangladesh ready-made garment sector.

"BGMEA's support will enable a more competitive industry, which provides better jobs for its workers," added Rosey Hurst, chairman of Impactt Bangladesh.

The Benefits for Business and Workers Programme (BBW) was launched in 2011 and has so far worked with 73 export garment manufacturers in India and Bangladesh. It is supported by a group of retailers and brands, including Arcadia Group, Marks & Spencer, Mothercare, New Look, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Ralph Lauren and Varner Group.

The initiative focuses on improving factory productivity, efficiency, quality and human resources management and delivering better jobs for workers.

Key managers in participating factories are trained in problem-solving and decision-making techniques, along with skills in HR management, communications, production and quality management. In Bangladesh, there is also a health and safety module.

According to the results of its first two years in Bangladesh, efficiency improved by 18.3%, and cut-to-ship ratio by improved by 1.14% - meaning that factories were able to ship (and get paid for) more garments from the same inputs.

Absenteeism reduced by 33.7% on average, indicating that workers were more motivated to come to work each day. And worker turnover is down on average across all factories by 52.2%, meaning that fewer than half the number of workers were leaving every month than at the start of the programme.

By year two factories saw an overall increase in average take-home pay of BDT491 (US$6.3) per month or 7.63% - equivalent to an increase in annual pay of GBP3.4m across the 67,640 workers employed by participating factories.

Factories also performed strongly on hourly pay, increasing this by 11.9%. Workers' quality of life was also improved by significant reductions in working hours, with the percentage of workers working more than 60 hours per week falling by 43.5%. 

With additional reporting by Leonie Barrie.