Bangladesh aims to map all 20 Bangladeshi garment-producing districts by mid-2021

Bangladesh aims to map all 20 Bangladeshi garment-producing districts by mid-2021

In a first of its kind, all Bangladesh apparel factories are to be digitally mapped as part of a new initiative aimed at offering more transparency in the country's garment industry, signalling a transformative shift within the ready-made garment sector.

The public map, to go live mid-2018, will be created from the collection of "credible, comprehensive and accurate" data on factories across Bangladesh. The initial offering will be for factories within Dhaka, with the eventual aim of rolling it out to all 20 Bangladeshi garment-producing districts by mid-2021.

Named 'Digital RMG Factory Mapping in Bangladesh' (DRFM-B), the initiative is being implemented by BRAC University's Centre for Entrepreneurship Development, and coordinated by BRAC USA, with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) acting as strategic partner. Lead funding is being provided by the C&A Foundation, while a multi-stakeholder Project Advisory Committee will guide the mapping, which will include representatives of workers, NGOs, employers, and industry associations. 

"This project will send a strong signal to all stakeholders that transformative change is happening within the ready-made garment sector," says Parveen Huda, project manager for DRFM-B. "Through its mapping and relationship building, DRFM-B will fuel Bangladesh's garment industry advancements, inspire shared responsibility, responsible sourcing, collective action, and builds upon pre-existing improvement efforts through informed decision-making."

The aim of the map is to provide a detailed industry-wide database of factories, including details such as names, locations, numbers of workers, product type, export country, certifications, and brand customers. Verification will be crowdsourced from the public to ensure information remains up-to-date and accurate, BRAC says.

The apparel sector is Bangladesh's largest export, dominating the country's economy for over 30 years, making it the second largest garment producing country in the world. Yet the move comes at a time when Bangladesh's garment industry has come under fresh fire for worker safety following a recent factory boiler explosion that killed 11 people.

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A number of initiatives, however, are working to increase transparency in the country's garment industry, including the renewal of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety for a further three years, which has "stronger transparency" built into the commitment, listing all supplier factories, and publicly reporting on inspection outcomes, corrective actions, and progress.

Earlier this year, a transparency pledge was also launched by a coalition of trade unions and NGOs, where companies commit to publish information on where their products are made. It draws upon existing good practices of global apparel companies and sets a floor, not a ceiling, for supply chain transparency.

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Naureen Chowdhury, C&A Foundation programme manager for supply chain innovation and transformation, says of the new digital mapping initiative: ''DRFM-B is driven by the fundamental belief that transparency and traceability lead to long-term industry advancements and improved working conditions. By funding this project, we aim to increase industry accountability to transform fashion into a force for good."

Meanwhile, BGMEA president Siddiqur Rahman believes the initiative will "significantly" complement its ongoing efforts towards enhanced, more risk-averse supply chains.

"We believe it will empower stakeholders across the industry, including workers, factory authority, brands, government, and civil society organizations to create positive changes and strengthen the effectiveness of improvements already underway. We hope this will be instrumental toward establishing a strong marketing and branding tool for the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh through increased accessibility of information."