The roller coaster ride behind the drastic transformation of BD RMG industry
The ready-made garment (RMG) industry of Bangladesh is the backbone of its economic success story. This comes on the back of the sector’s rapid growth and modernization over the past decade—as well as the strides it has made exemplary working conditions for the country’s approximately four million garment workers.
The latest survey report by Hong Kong-based supply chain compliance solutions provider, QIMA, ranked Bangladesh second in “Ethical Manufacturing” with a score of 7.7 after Taiwan that scored 8.0. Vietnam came in 3rd, trailed by Thailand, Pakistan, Turkey, China, India and Brazil.
The ethical auditing report covered a wide range of compliance and ethical manufacturing i.e. hygiene, health and safety, waste management, child and young labor, labor practices, including forced labor, worker representation, disciplinary practices and discrimination, Working hours and wages, etc.
By associating the ethical auditing practices of main apparel manufacturing countries, QIMA noted that Bangladesh leads the way with good practices of its local suppliers in the international supply chain. This acknowledgment from an internationally leading organization carries pride, status and delight for Bangladesh.
Ethical manufacturing is all about ensuring workplace safety, paying workers fairly, and being energy efficient and eco-friendly in the manufacturing process. Side by side, boycotting products whose manufacturing process harms the environment or exploits workers. The latest QIMA report reflects that Bangladesh has made its mark in sustainable and ethical manufacturing.
However, it did not happen overnight. There lies a definite success story behind this achievement, and we can understand it by looking back at the industry’s roller-coaster ride.
After the Rana Plaza disaster, the industry has intensified its energies to guarantee the safety, dignity and empowerment of the workers. The tragedy was a major wake-up call and the way the industry has responded to remediate factories and made the workplace safer is remarkable.
Realizing the importance of structural and electrical safety at factories in addition to fire safety, a National Tripartite Plan of Action was formed supported by ILO.
Now the RMG industry is under close observation of several authorities to ensure social compliance. In addition to the regular inspection by government-run DIFE, the Social Compliance Forum under the Ministry of Commerce regularly monitors compliance issues.
The industry associations and buyers’ nominated third-party auditors also keep eye on these issues. Therefore, the industry is quite open and transparent on compliance issues. ILO Better Works also monitor a good number of the factories.
Moreover, to carry forward the safety upgrade, RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) has been formed involving equal numbers of representatives of industry bodies, brands and unions.
With all these efforts, the apparel industry has reached a loftiness of unmatched standards in terms of safety and transparency, and it is evident in the QIMA report.
A recent McKinsey report also labeled Bangladesh’s RMG as “a frontrunner in transparency regarding factory safety and value-chain responsibility, thanks to initiatives launched in the aftermath of the disasters.”
Mckinsey also highlighted the fact that more than 1,500 Bangladeshi companies are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which is the second top number globally.
Making the factories dynamic, modern, energy-efficient and environment-friendly.
Having said that, Bangladesh has the highest number of green garment factories in the world. US Green Building Council (USGBC) certified 143 Bangladeshi factories as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), among them 40 are LEED platinum-rated and 89 are LEED gold-rated units.
Also, 500 more factories are in the certification pipeline. Besides 39 out of the world’s top 100 LEED factories are situated in Bangladesh.
Besides, BGMEA, being the head trade body of Bangladesh RMG industry, has joined the UN Fashion Industry Charter on Climate Action of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).
BGMEA has also pledged to the German government-led global initiative named “Green Button”. Moreover, BGMEA has partnered with Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) and Reverse Resources to build Circular Fashion Partnership (CFP) to initiate a circular business model in the industry. All these efforts testify to the industry’s strategic vision and commitment to environmental sustainability.
In a word, the RMG industry of Bangladesh has come a long way. Nevertheless, the industry is not letting complacency and lethargy set in. Now the industry is focusing on building its capacity to monitor workplace safety through a national safety regime. The formation of RSC is a part of that endeavor.
Now that Bangladesh’s RMG industry is coming of age and there are signs that it is well-positioned to capture a leadership position in apparel export, achieving its capacity to lead the industry towards safety and sustainability is of paramount importance at this stage of its long journey.
Thanks to its high level of adaptability, today Bangladesh’s RMG industry can boast of having been transformed into a state-of-the-art, safe, secured and green hub of sustainable and ethical manufacturing.
The incredible transformation that took place in the RMG industry has driven Bangladesh to become the second-largest garment exporter of the world, confronting all odds and proving cynics erroneously who were busy writing the epitaph for this sector.