After doing some remediation and adapting to compliance issues, a Bangladeshi garment factory asked its foreign buyers to pay more for its products. The buyers agreed to pay eight percent more.
But a few weeks later, the buyers refused to adhere to the commitment and offered to pay only four percent more. Even though the supplier agreed to the revised price, the worst was yet to come.
Several weeks later, the buyers pushed the supplier to reduce price by 20 percent on the already settled amount.
This is only one example how many international brands usually implement their purchasing practices, said Ayub Ali, a Bangladeshi exporter of garment products.
"Is this practice helpful at all for a sustainable partnership [between suppliers and buyers] or a sustainable RMG industry?" he asked participants at a forum held in Dhaka on Tuesday, and attended by representatives of global apparel brands and campaigners of fair trade.
"Wages for workers have increased and so has the production cost. Hence, purchasing practices should also be changed in line with that," he said.
Ayub Ali's views were reflected in an instant opinion poll on the first day of the Bangladesh Denim Expo 2019.
Fifty-two percent of participants in an online interactive live audience poll said that legislative changes are required for fair purchasing practices to ensure better prices for Bangladeshi apparels.
Besides, 38 percent of the respondents wanted an independent verification and public reporting on the brands' purchasing practices to bring positive changes to readymade garment's supply chains.
Campaigners for living wages of workers and sustainability of the apparel industry were also convinced that pricing and purchasing practices by global brands need to be transparent to ensure fair prices for apparels.
Frank Hoffer, the executive director of ACT, a foundation of global brands and retailers in the garments, textiles and footwear sectors, focused on developing a mechanism for a win-win situation for both brands and suppliers.
"Just awareness has not improved fair purchasing practices, and suppliers, as a result, are being subjected to the worst circumstances. Besides, some purchasing practices could be considered illegal. Therefore, we are looking forward to a legislative solution to this issue," said Fiona Gooch, senior policy adviser to Traidcraft Exchange, a UK-based fair trade movement pioneer.
It is necessary to either adapt some existing laws or go for new ones so that buyers are compelled to pay the prices settled earlier between them and the suppliers, she added.
Koen Oosterom, the Fair Wear Foundation's country manager for Bangladesh and Myanmar, said there is an imbalance in power between brands and factories.
He asked both brands and suppliers to be transparent all through supply chains and purchasing practices.
Mohammad A Momen, a director of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), criticised brands' compliance and transparency while purchasing products.
"As a business partner, you want us to be transparent and compliant. But where is your compliance, your transparency? How can you ask us to be transparent when you are not?" Asked Momen.
"I cannot be environmentally sustainable, nor can I be an ethical employer unless I am financially sustainable. You are offering me a price [for my products] which is not enough for my sustainability. There should be a fair deal," he added.
"You are asking us to be compliant, but where are your ethical buying practices?" Asked former BGMEA vice-president Faruque Hasan.
How do your consumers want to buy a garment product for below five dollars while they buy a cup of coffee for more than that? Brands will have to comply with fair buying practices, he added.
Call for green prices for green factories
At the closing session of the forum, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi asked the brands to pay appropriate prices for garments that have been produced by factories that have gone green by addressing compliance issues.
"You have always asked us to comply with environment and compliance issues. And now that it is done, you should pay the appropriate prices," said the commerce minister who is also a former president of the BGMEA.
BGMEA President Rubana Haque said both brands and suppliers have been given equal incentives. "Why are our exports then going down despite our having the highest number of green factories? The brands are not showing respect to our going green."
Bangladesh has the highest number of green factories (around 100) in the world certified by LEED - a globally recognised symbol of sustainability achievement. Besides, seven factories of the country have made it to the list of top 10 best factories in the world.
"There is absolutely no connection between sustainability and the purchasing practices of the brands," said Rubana.
"Everybody must have one single goal – sustainability. It is not only for the environment but also for economic factors," she said, urging buyers to pay green prices for green factories.