Better Work forum highlights opportunities for Bangladesh’s garment industry
Better Work Bangladesh held its second stakeholder and buyer forum in Dhaka, April 4, to explore progress made by the programme, the challenges remaining and how to continue to improve working conditions across the country’s garment factories while increasing their competitiveness.
Some 300 national and international garment sector representatives attended the forum, including partners from government, employer associations and unions, as well as 80 members from international brands.
Louis Vanegas, Programme Manager of Better Work Bangladesh – a partnership between the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group – welcomed the audience and outlined the programme’s work.
“We are here to unite diverse stakeholders, promote decent work for all and help the garment industry in Bangladesh thrive. We would like to see the sector attain the government’s own goals: for Bangladesh to become a middle-income country with a 50 billion USD export sector and good compliance conditions by 2021,” he said.
Vanegas explained that the Better Work programme was currently engaging 120 factories and helping shift the mindset of garment employers in Bangladesh from seeing compliance as an obligation to being a business necessity that makes them more competitive.
Srinivas Reddy, Director of the ILO Country Office for Bangladesh said that following its launch in 2014, Better Work Bangladesh had introduced an entirely new concept of supporting Ready Made Garment factories to boost their compliance while at the same time enhancing productivity.
“I firmly believe that Better Work can make a valuable contribution to the working conditions and competitiveness of individual factories. It can also help take the industry to the next level, which is the theme of this second stakeholders’ forum,” he said.
Bangladesh Employers’ Federation Secretary General Farook Ahmed said Better Work could help achieve the 2021 goals and elevate the country status to middle-income, but suggested that the programme needed to be flexible in adapting to Bangladesh’s on-the-ground reality to do so.
Director of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Miran Ali said that Bangladesh was on its way to becoming the most sustainable, transparent industry in the world but, in order to achieve this, all stakeholders must collaborate.
“Better Work Bangladesh is definitely an important partner, but we all need to understand each other better,” he said. Kutubuddin Ahmed, Secretary General of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC), said that enhancing compliance levels in factories was key to guaranteeing workers’ safety and wellbeing but that more should be done to achieve this, including collaborating with Better Work.
“Healthy workers means healthy production, therefore, we need to address the workers’ problems,” the union leader said. “Without addressing them we won’t be able to achieve the country’s goals. The world’s eyes are focussed on Bangladesh’s development.”
Secretary General of the National Coordination Committee for Workers’ Education (NCCWE) Chowdhury Ashikul Alam shared this view.
“Everybody has duties in the industry. If workers were better aware of their rights, as well as their duties, it would benefit the whole industry.”
Representatives from global brands and retailers held talks with Better Work in the afternoon, stressing their commitment to enhancing compliance in their supplier factories across the country to meet international labour standards.
Better Work unites the expertise of the ILO in labour standards with that of the IFC in private sector development.
The programme – the newest of all Better Work’s seven country-level operations – has been collaborating with workers, employers and the government to improve working conditions and boost the competitiveness of the local garment industry since late 2014.
It currently works with 120 factories which employ over 241,000 workers and cooperates with 30 international brands and retailers.
Bangladesh’s $28 billion a year garment export industry includes 4,500 factories, employing some four million workers, which accounts for the second largest apparel and textile exporting industry in the world, second only to China.