Since the independence, a quite extensive development cooperation has dominated the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Sweden. At the same time, however, trade has developed in a positive way although from a low level. In 2017, trade with Bangladesh accounted for 0.06% of Sweden’s total exports and 0.3 % of their total imports.
An MoU was signed last year between the Sweden-Bangladesh Business Council, based in Sweden, and the Nordic Chamber of Commerce and Industry located in Bangladesh. In addition, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, last year, invited Swedish businesses to invest in Bangladesh and become a partner in trade saying, “I strongly encourage the Swedish business leaders to trade with us for mutual prosperity. Together, we can change the lives of millions of citizens of our countries.”
There is a potential for increased trade between Sweden and Bangladesh. The positive image of Sweden in Bangladesh is an important factor when promoting Swedish industries in Bangladesh, for example, energy, environment, paper pulp, and leather products. Also in the field of textiles, readymade garments and pharmaceuticals there are significant opportunities for growth in trade relations.
Charlotta Schlyter, Swedish Ambassador to Bangladesh in a recent conversation with Textile Today opens up about trade relations between Bangladesh and Sweden, safety condition in the Bangladesh garment industry, labor rights issue etc.
Textile Today: How do you see the economic growth of Bangladesh and how do you evaluate the contribution of the textile and apparel industry in Bangladesh economic growth?
Charlotta Schlyter: Bangladesh’s economic growth is very impressive, as is its development journey. It is consistently showing 6 to 7 percent growth every year and textile and apparel industry are contributing very large proportion behind those figures.
Textile Today: Every year Sweden imports a large number of apparel products from Bangladesh but overall export to Sweden is not satisfactory for Bangladesh, how Bangladesh can boost its apparel export in Sweden more?
Charlotta Schlyter: well, it is already quite large actually. A number of Swedish apparel companies source in Bangladesh and they have generally had a very good experience of during so. Of course, the industry has gone through many serious challenges in the last few years. Rana Plaza was a turning point. However, Swedish companies have continued sourcing but with an involvement where they have played a part in helping Bangladesh industry come back and strengthen it.
I strongly encourage the Swedish business leaders to trade with us for mutual prosperity. Together, we can change the lives of millions of citizens of our countries.
Accord and Alliance play a major role in safety improvements of Bangladesh apparel industry. The brands played a very substantial part, and the Swedish Embassy and other countries present in Bangladesh are also trying to support the work towards better working conditions in the Bangladesh apparel industry.
Textile Today: H&M and Lindex are the two major Swedish buyers of Bangladesh apparel products. How the sustainable apparel manufacturing in Bangladesh is important for Sweden and Swedish brands?
Charlotta Schlyter: Sustainability is very important and the Swedish government emphasizes it. But it is also important for the companies themselves and they have acted accordingly also in relation to Bangladesh and their activities here. The companies have to speak for themselves, I do not speak for them, but I know for an example H&M is involved in training activities for workers to have a greater involvement in the factory and to be more knowledgeable about their rights and also how to be more organized and efficient in the factory.
Textile Today: Bangladesh textile and apparel manufacturers are struggling on profitability, mainly due to less price from brands, do you think manufacturing could be sustainable with current prices brands offering to Bangladesh?
Charlotta Schlyter: Well, that is not for me to say, that is a dialogue between brands and manufacturers. Another aspect is what share the workers are getting. That is another discussion. But of course, it is important that the conditions of Bangladesh RMG industry is proper for the workers and I think we all have a responsibility for that.
Textile Today: The industries are suffering from multiple compliance requirements and have been requesting for a unified one, how Swedish companies or the government can help with this?
Charlotta Schlyter: It is not for the Swedish government to set up unified requirements. It’s going to have to between the brands and manufacturers but it’s clear that there are very strong international frameworks, meaning that when it comes to labor conditions you have conventions and recommendations through the ILO. We are hoping that there will be new labor legislation adopted very soon, and that it will be extended to apply also in export processing zones. When it comes to other sustainability issues, for example, water, I know there is a big discussion in Bangladesh. We have been assisting through our development a coorperation. A project which was concluded recently looked at how the textile industry can use less amount of water. There are ways to mitigate it, and I think many of the participants from factories were engaged and saw many ways of reducing water use. It is an important issue for the future of Bangladesh, as drinking water is used in factories, and it is in short supply in the country.
Textile today: Research says if consumers pay extra 10 cents per garments apparel the value-chain will become more sustainable, the challenge is that can the money goes back to the manufacturer. Do you think, will the Swedish government or companies help in this?
Charlotta Schlyter: I am not aware of that research. Once again, I do believe, it is a dialogue between brands and manufacturers. So, I am unable to comment on the suggestion you mentioned.
Textile Today: Bangladesh textile and apparel industry is the second largest in the world, what are the opportunities do you see for Swedish government or companies for investing in Bangladesh?
Charlotta Schlyter: Many Swedish companies do source from Bangladesh and as far as I know this is something that they will probably continue. But that’s not the Swedish government to guide rather it’s up to the brands.
Textile Today: How can the Swedish government contribute to Bangladesh to make a sustainable textile and apparel industry?
Charlotta Schlyter: Swedish government is engaged in various development cooperation programs in Bangladesh since the birth of this country. We are active in a number of areas like gender equality, human rights, environment, climate, health and in also sustainable growth. We are working together with ILO (International Labour Organization) and Bangladesh government. Also brands, textile manufacturers and unions are involved on a project, which looks at how the social dialogue can become stronger in the textile industry in Bangladesh. Sweden is a big believer in social dialogue as a way to strengthen society and to make growth more inclusive. There is an initiative called ‘Global Deal’. It was initiated from Sweden and the Bangladesh government also became a member from the beginning. And this is another way by which both the government can work together to support and encourage better working conditions.
Textile Today: What are the challenges in bilateral trade with Bangladesh? How these could be removed?
Charlotta Schlyter: Sweden’s export to Bangladesh is much smaller than import and the big explanation is the textile and apparel industry. One important factor that could increase the interest of Swedish exporting companies to invest in Bangladesh would be improvements in the business environment or “ease of doing business”. “Ease of doing business” or the business climate determines whether the companies from abroad have the confidence to come and contribute to a country’s economy. Bangladesh still needs to make the business climate more predictable and easy to navigate for foreign companies.