Readymade garment entrepreneurs need to be compliant on workers’ rights and safety as the related issues have again surfaced in global arena after Ashulia incident and some incidents of repression on trade unions and workers, said local and international experts, policymakers and buyers on Saturday.
At a session on business policy and environment: towards a better Bangladesh at the Dhaka Apparel Summit, they also asked the RMG owners to be more efficient in production and shortening lead time to be more competitive in global market.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association arranged the daylong summit at Hotel Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka.
US ambassador to Bangladesh Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat urged the apparel exporters to transform the RMG industry into a compliant one in line with the current international standard.
It is not like that all garment factories will have trade union but there should be a mutual platform to solve the problems related to workers’ rights so that incidents like Ashulia not happen, she said.
The success of Bangladesh RMG sector may be impeded due to such incidents, Bernicat added.
Robert McDougall, executive director of Global Affairs Canada’s South Asia Desk, said worker-manager relations and workers’ safety were the important issues for Bangladesh apparel sector in recent times.
Politicians including prime minister of Canada get many letters from citizens to be more vigilant on workers repression in Bangladesh as it gives duty-free and quota-free market access to the country, he said.
Global leading buyer Marks & Spencer country head Shwapna Bhowmick said that local exporters would have to work to shorten lead time even from traditional 120 days.
Oxford University’s development economics professor Christopher Woodruff said skilled manpower including preparing women for mid-level managerial position and ensuring real wages were the biggest challenges for the country.
United Commercial Bank chairman MA Sabur requested the RMG entrepreneurs to be compliant on building, fire and workers’ rights for getting funds from banks.
The banks have enough fund but are not getting good and compliant entrepreneurs to finance, he said.
Commerce minister Tofail Ahmed criticised the international buyers and western countries for talking too much about trade unions in Bangladesh instead of talking about raising the prices of apparel products.
‘I wonder why only Bangladesh will be in discussion when it comes to trade union and why not about Vietnam, China, India, Pakistan and other countries,’ he said.
After Rana Plaza collapse Bangladeshi exporters invested a huge amount of money but not a single penny was increased to help Bangladesh’s export sustain and nobody talks about that, Tofail said.
Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry former president Syed Nasim Manzur, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies senior research fellow Nazneen Ahmed, BGMEA vice-president Mohammad Nasir also spoke at the session moderated by Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry first vice-president Shafiul Islam.
In the second session on collaborative and responsible sourcing for sustainable growth speakers also advised for allowing trade unions in the RMG sector.
BGMEA director Miran Ali moderated the session, where Centre for Policy Dialogue research director Fahmida Khatun presented the keynote paper.
State minister for foreign affairs Md Shahriar Alam, Netherlands ambassador Leoni Margaretha Cuelenaere, Denmark ambassador Mikael H Winther, BGMEA senior vice-president Faruque Hassan, Awaj Foundation executive director Nazma Akhter, Dansk Fashion and Textile chief executive officer Thomas Klausen, International Finance PACT programme manager Mohan Seneviratne, RMIT University professor Sharif As Saber and Textile and Garment Responsible Business Conduct Unit policy director Jennifer Schappert, among others, also spoke.
Speaking about the importance of trade union, Thomas Klausen said, ‘It’s easier to work with a trade union rather than working against it as under the union workers get scope to talk about different problems they face at the workplace.’
He also suggested that the initiatives which were taken by the Accord and Alliance after the Rana Plaza collapse should be continued after the tenure expiry of the buyers’ forums.
Newage Group of Industries vice-chairman Asif Ibrahim moderated the third session on ‘Bangladesh Apparel Industry: Transformation and the Road Ahead’ where Swedish ambassador Johan Frisell, commerce ministry senior secretary Hedayeullah Al Mamoon, Social and Environmental Standards in the Industry GIZ Bangladesh head of promotion Jochen Weilkert, Bangladesh high commissioner to Sri Lanka Reaz Hamidullah, BGMEA vice president Mahmud Hasan Khan Babu, International Labor Organisation country director Srinivas B Reddy and Adam Institute Landon senior fellow Tim Worstall also spoke.
Raising Swedish investors’ concern following the extremist attack in 2016 at Holly Artisan, Johan Frisell said with a view to attaining and bringing more investments in the country, Bangladesh will have to ensure that such incident will not take place in future.
He also pointed out that the Bangladesh would have to invest in research to produce advanced items with a view to attaining the targeted $50-billion export earnings from the RMG sector.
Johan said that introducing high-end products would also help Bangladeshi exporters to claim higher prices for their products.
He also said that the strong trade unions would help fight against labour unrest as workers would get scope to talk with the management regarding their demands.