• Discussions at the annual Bangladesh Business Forum centred on the need for a globally competitive garment industry supported by improved labour market governance, effective social dialogue and responsible sourcing practices to ensure decent work and generate long-term prosperity for the industry.
The forum was organised by the Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) programme

The forum was organised by the Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) programme

A meeting between representatives of the world's largest retail brands and leading figures from Bangladesh's ready-made garment (RMG) sector has highlighted the importance of a sustainability vision for the South Asian country's apparel industry. 

More than 350 garment-sector representatives from the government, employers' and workers' organisations, development partners, global brands and retailers, manufacturers, civil society and academia came together at the annual Bangladesh Business Forum in Dhaka last week.

Under the theme 'Driving Sustainable Change,' the forum was organised by the Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) programme, a joint collaboration between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Bangladesh's US$34bn a year garment export industry is the second largest in the world, behind China, and encompasses more than 4,500 factories, employing over 4m workers.

Discussions centred on the need for a globally competitive garment industry supported by improved labour market governance, effective social dialogue and responsible sourcing practices to ensure decent work and generate long-term prosperity for the industry. A number of speakers also highlighted ongoing issues facing the industry, including how BWB and its brand partners can continue to address gender and OSH non-compliances.

"The ILO's engagement through the Better Work programme is having a significant impact on Bangladesh's garment industry. But sustaining the progress depends on how well we can support the country on the availability of institutional and legal structures and capacity," Tuomo Poutiainen, country director for ILO Bangladesh, noted in his opening remarks.

Wendy Werner, IFC country manager for Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, added: "Together, IFC and ILO actively work to boost the competitiveness of the garment industry through the Better Work partnership The Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) programme aims to redress the gender imbalance in factories by training women for supervisory roles and improving line-level productivity."

Meanwhile, Julia Niblett, Australian high commissioner to Bangladesh, highlighted that Australia renewed its support to Better Work Bangladesh to "help build a competitive local garment sector that provides decent jobs, improves factory productivity, and delivers economic development. The programme, which also helps improve income and conditions for women workers, will be expanded to cover 400 factories across Bangladesh by 2021."

Five years into its existence, Better Work Bangladesh now reaches more than 530,000 workers in 230 factories, who work with 25 international brand partners.

"Fostering sustainability in the garment sector is a responsibility shared by all stakeholders," Better Work Bangladesh country programme manager Anne-Laure Henry-Gréard said, adding that BWB's priority was to ensure constituents and the private sector are in the driving seat and have the tools, framework and mindset to ensure that good working conditions are standard in the industry and supported by all stakeholders and institutions.

Through its core services – assessments, advisory and training – Better Work works to improve compliance practices and deliver beneficial outcomes to both factories and workers. The programme currently works with more than 1,700 factories and 2.4m workers in eight countries and engages 60 global brands and retailers.  

In closing, Dr Rezaul Hoque, additional secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE), called upon RMG business leaders to take greater ownership of the sustainability agenda to complement the efforts of the government and development partners.

According to the re:source by just-style strategic sourcing tool, the textile and apparel sector contributes around 20% to Bangladesh's GDP. It employs around 20m people in the country and is the major driving force of the country's economy. Some 8% of world apparel exports come from Bangladesh.