Fashion brands in the European Union (EU) are becoming increasingly serious about their role in the global supply chain in terms of human rights, said Annabel Meurs, an international supply chain expert.
Terming human rights a shared responsibility, Annabel Meurs, head of supply chain transformation at Fair Wear Foundation, said brand actions have a huge influence on labour conditions in the sourcing countries.
"With purchasing practices, they [the brands] can make a difference," she told The Business Standard during an interview on the sidelines of the Sustainable Apparel Forum held in Dhaka recently.
Annabel Meurs said Bangladesh is a major sourcing country for EU brands, and the country's apparel manufacturers also share the responsibility of protecting human rights alongside the foreign brands.
The expert also spoke on fair prices for Bangladeshi apparel items in the international market, challenges about making the sector sustainable, and living wages of workers.
According to the expert, suppliers alone should not face the pressure stemming from shared responsibilities. Indeed, both suppliers and buyers should take the pressure equally.
Highlighting the activities of Fair Wear Foundation with suppliers and brands, she said, "We collaborate with the stakeholders to create an impact."
She said an app has been developed to calculate apparel pricing due to raw material price hikes, and the app has already been launched in Bangladesh, allowing local manufacturers to negotiate better with the brands.
"But the important thing is that one single brand cannot achieve sustainable wage increases alone since a factory may work with ten different buyers. So buyers too need to take the responsibility to support wage sustainability."
Annabel Meurs said it is not possible for any single party to bring about structural change in Bangladesh's readymade garment sector.
"All the actors in the global supply chain have their respective roles. The whole enabling environment around us needs to make it possible for workers to collectively raise and address their rights. And the brands in Europe have a role to play, but it certainly is in collaboration with partners in the sourcing countries like Bangladesh," she noted.
The Europe-based Fair Wear was established in 1999 with the aim of improving labour conditions in the global apparel industry. It is a multi-stakeholder initiative, which connects and convenes brands, factories, workers, trade unions, NGOs and other industry influencers.
Fair Wear is now working with around 140 member brands, mostly European, and 11 RMG producing countries, including Bangladesh.