Better Work business forum highlights the importance of a resilient COVID-19 recovery for Bangladesh’s RMG sector

2 Nov 2020

Dhaka-2 November 2020

Representatives from the world’s largest retail brands met with leading figures from the country’s ready-made garment (RMG) sector at a Bangladesh Virtual Business Forum on 28-29 October 2020.

Under the theme ‘Reimagining Sustainability’, the two-day virtual forum was organised by the Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) programme, a collaboration between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Discussions centred on a resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, supported by coordinated capacity-building initiatives, improved labour market governance, effective social dialogue and responsible sourcing practices to ensure decent work and resilient supply chains.

The Forum also highlighted the impact and lessons learned from Better Work’s response to COVID-19, particularly the support to factories and ILO constituents, and how the industry can make the best out of these interventions for a sustainable recovery from the crisis.

“This is a very important year for the RMG industry to look at the long-term challenges and opportunities in the face of the COVID-19 crisis,” Anne-Laure Henry-Gréard, Country Programme Manager, BWB, said in her introductory speech.

Over 250 RMG stakeholders, including representatives from the government, employers’ and workers’ organizations, development partners, global brands and retailers, manufacturers, civil society and academia attended the virtual event.

“Our approach to ‘build back better’ has to be based on the application of international labour standards, and we hope to see continuing support to the initiatives that have commenced seven to eight years ago in relation to the improvement in working conditions, industrial safety and social dialogue,” Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director for ILO Bangladesh, noted in his welcome remarks.

“The Better Work programme can play an important role in ensuring a better future for the RMG industry during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. With joint efforts of the government, employers’ and workers’ organizations at the national level, and with the support of the development partners, the government is very hopeful of a full economic and social recovery from the crisis within a short period of time,” said Mr K.M. Abdus Salam, Honourable Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment.

Highlighting the impact of Better Work’s flagship training programme Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) in addressing gender inequality in the RMG sector, IFC Country Manager for Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, Wendy Werner, stated: “Our collective work on women’s empowerment and gender equality will be an extremely important part of building back better.”

Dr. Md. Mostafizur Rahman, Joint Inspector General, Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE); Mr. Abdul Latif Khan ndc, Additional Director General (Joint Secretary), Department of Labour; Mr. Naimul Ahsan Jewel, Member Secretary, National Coordination Committee on Workers Education (NCCWE); and Mr. Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, Vice-President, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) also spoke during this first day.

“It is the right time to think how we can mitigate the uncertainties facing the RMG industry. The development partners along with the ILO can intervene and take initiatives to help the business community build stability in the sector,” Dr. Md. Jafar Uddin, Honourable Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, said in his keynote speech on the second day of the forum.

Terming the COVID-19 crisis as ‘a new reality we cannot deny’, Bangladesh Employers’ Federation (BEF) President Mr. Kamran T. Rahman acknowledged BWB’s continued support to the workers and employers during this unprecedented time.

The second day of the forum also featured a high-level discussion on responsible business conduct after COVID-19, moderated by Anne-Laure Henry-Gréard, BWB’s Country Programme Manager.

Taking part in the discussion, H. E. Ms. Rensje Teerink, Ambassador, EU Delegation to Bangladesh, noted: “Due diligence for responsible business conduct will be a game-changer because it will provide for a level playing field not only for the producing countries but also for the companies. Making it mandatory is one of the objectives the EU is pursuing.”

Rubana Huq, President, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said, “All of us are actually one, there are no sides anymore. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it has taught us that it is the time to be together. There is no alternative to collaboration.”

Mr. Md. Kamrul Hassan, General Secretary, Industriall Bangladesh Council (IBC) drew attention to the health risks and heightened livelihood uncertainty facing the workers during the crisis.

“COVID-19 accelerated trends that were already there. Almost 100 brands have already signed up with the ILO’s Global Call to Action to play their part, including financially, to put in place social security and safety net systems in the garment sector,” noted Mr. Michael Bride, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility, PVH Corp.

The discussion also featured Mr. Tyler Gillard, Head of Due Diligence, OECD Centre for Responsible Business Conduct; and Ms. Githa Roelans, Unit Head, MNE and Enterprise Engagement, ILO.

“The RMG industry in Bangladesh had to adjust to astonishing changes during this crisis and made some significant leaps. This also shows the industry’s adaptability and resilience to a crisis like this,” Mr. Dan Rees, Director, Better Work, ILO said in his closing remarks.

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