Speakers at a forum have underlined the importance of a sustainability vision for Bangladesh's readymade garment sector.
They put importance on a globally competitive garment industry supported by improved labour market governance, effective social dialogue and responsible sourcing practices to ensure a decent work environment and generate long-term prosperity for the industry.
Representatives from the world's largest retail brands met leading figures from the country's readymade garment sector at the Annual Bangladesh Business Forum in the capital last Wednesday.
Under the theme 'Driving Sustainable Change', the forum was organised by the Better Work Bangladesh programme, a joint collaboration between the International Labour Organisation and the International Finance Corporation.
Today, Bangladesh's $34 billion a year garment export industry is the second largest in the world (behind China) with more than 4,500 factories, employing over four million workers.
A number of speakers also highlighted ongoing issues facing the industry, including how the programme and its brand partners can continue to address gender discrimination and non-compliance of occupational safety and health.
Over 350 readymade garment stakeholders, including representatives from the government, employers' and workers' organisations, development partners, global brands and retailers, manufacturers, civil society and academia attended the high-level event.
"The International Labour Organisation's engagement through the Better Work programme is having a significant impact on Bangladesh's garment industry. But sustaining the progress depends on how well we can support the country on the availability of institutional and legal structures and capacity," Tuomo Poutiainen, country director for the International Labour Organisation Bangladesh, noted in his opening remarks.
Wendy Werner, International Finance Corporation's country manager for Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, said, the International Finance Corporation and the International Labour Organisation are actively and jointly working to boost the competitiveness of the garment industry.
Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Julia Niblett said Australia renewed its support to Better Work Bangladesh to help build a competitive local garment sector that provides decent jobs, improves factory productivity, and delivers economic development.
The programme, which also helps improve income and conditions for women workers, will be expanded to cover 400 factories across Bangladesh by 2021.
A director of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association Asif Ibrahim, 2nd Vice-president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, Member Secretary of National Coordination Committee on Workers Education Naimul Ahsan Jewel and Secretary General of Industrial Bangladesh ZM Kamrul Anam attended the forum.
Dutch Ambassador to Bangladesh Harry Verweij and Danish Ambassador Winnie Estrup Petersen were also present at the event.
Better Work Bangladesh Country Programme Manager Anne-Laure Henry-Gréard pointed out that five years into its existence, the Better Work programme now reaches more than 530,000 workers in 230 factories, who work with 25 international brand partners.
"Fostering sustainability in the garment sector is a responsibility shared by all stakeholders," she said, adding that the Better Work Bangladesh's priority was to ensure that constituents and the private sector are in the driving seat and have the tools, framework and mindset to ensure that good working conditions are standard in the industry and supported by all stakeholders and institutions.
In closing, Dr Rezaul Hoque, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, called upon the sector's business leaders to take greater ownership of the sustainability agenda to complement the efforts of the government and development partners.
About Better Work Bangladesh
Through its core services— assessments, advisory and training—Better Work is trying to improve compliance practices and deliver beneficial outcomes to both factories and workers.
The Better work programme currently works with more than 1,700 factories and 2.4 million workers in eight countries and engages 60 global brands and retailers.
Better Work brings together all levels of the garment industry to improve working conditions and respect of labour rights for workers and boost the competitiveness of the apparel businesses.