Partnering for success

Better Work Forum emphasizes shared responsibility for a competitive Bangladesh garment industry

News | Dhaka | 23 October 2018
Better Work Business Forum brought together key stakeholders of the Bangladesh garment industry.
DHAKA (ILO News) - Joint responsibility and equal partnership are key to a competitive, compliant and sustainable ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh. This was a key message at the ILO-IFC Better Work Bangladesh Business Forum attended by 300 representatives from brands, manufacturers, government, employers’ and workers’ organizations and development partners.

Held in Dhaka from 22-23 October 2018, the multi-stakeholder forum saw dialogue and discussion on the vision for a competitive garment sector that provides decent jobs to workers, good business for factories and brands, and economic development for the country. Women’s leadership, automation, industry upgrades and the challenges accompanying these changes were also discussed by panelists.

Better Work is a joint programme of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Finance Corporation (IFC) which aims to improve labour standards and competitiveness in the global supply chain. It delivers assessment, advisory and training services to its member factories to build social dialogue, improve working conditions and boost their productivity and efficiency, and drives broader changes in the industry through its advocacy and research work at the global level.

Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director of ILO Bangladesh shed light on the strength of the Better Work model. “Better Work has proven that investing in working conditions is compensated by productivity gains. The programme is a convener of dialogue across the global supply chain, and focuses on building better systems for the peaceful resolution of industrial issues.”

“Worker awareness, employer commitment and engagement of the global community are crucial for improving workplace safety and social dialogue in the industry,” said Syed Ahmed, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment who attended the forum. Mr Ahmed also underlined the importance of responsible business conduct in ensuring sustainable production and minimum wage of workers.

Shwapna Bhowmik, Country Manager of Marks & Spencer spoke at the forum as well. She said, “Reskilling workers in the era of digitization makes a country a more attractive sourcing destination for buyers. We have trained 20,000 workers, including many through Better Work, and this investment has had a positive impact on productivity. We see Better Work as a bridge between workers, factories and brands.”

Nazneen Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies echoed Ms Bhowmik’s statement and said, “Productivity of the ready-made garment industry will fall if factories do not embrace new technology and upgrade the skills of workers.”

Miran Ali, Director of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) mentioned manufacturers’ preference for a single audit system in factories. “BGMEA believes that there should be a common standard of compliance. We would like more brands to sign up with the Better Work programme, and all brands to follow Better Work compliance assessment.”

Kapil Mathur, Director-Global Sustainability at GAP Inc mentioned that the combination of audits, trainings and advisory drives change in the industry. “Better Work provides these core services and a uniform audit which has worked well for us.”

Amirul Haque Amin, a representative of IndustriALL Bangladesh presented the worker perspective at the event. “We need to ensure that the progress made in industrial safety in Bangladesh is sustainable. There should be cooperation and consultation between workers and employers on labour law and the minimum wage.”

Rubana Huq, Managing Director of Mohammadi Group urged for better representation of women in the leadership of the RMG industry and institutions. She said, “Entrepreneurs should have female representation on their boards and involve women in decision-making and management”.

Over a span of two days, the Business Forum discussed the core services and various other initiatives of Better Work Bangladesh. Issues such as mindset and behavioural change, advocating for decent working conditions, women’s rights and better branding of the image of Bangladesh came up during panel discussions, debates and group work.

Among others, Harry Verweij, Ambassador of the Netherlands in Bangladesh; Kamran T Rahman, President of Bangladesh Employers Federation (BEF); Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, 2nd Second Vice President of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA); Sukur Mahmud, Chairperson of National Coordination Committee on Workers Education (NCCWE); Giasuddin Ahmed, Chairperson of IndustriALL Bangladesh (IBC) and Warisul Abid, Chief People Officer of SQ Group shared their views at the event.

Better Work was introduced in Bangladesh in 2014 and globally engages more than 1,600 factories reaching 2.2 million workers across seven countries. The Bangladesh programme currently works with 20 brand partners, 181 factories and around 400,000 garment workers, 54% of which are women.