Bithi was only five when she first realized the changes in her body. It did not take long for her and her family to understand that she was a Hijra (transgender).
Fearing social stigma and public harassment, her parents abandoned her. A transgender community later adopted and brought her to Chattogram.
From that point of life, misery and sadness never stopped chasing Bithi. As a new member of the transgender community, she started collecting money from passersbys on streets and shopkeepers.
Whether it was a wedding party or a welcome home party for newborn babies, she along with her gang never missed a chance to break into the parties and ask for baksheesh (tips).
Bithi always dreamt of a normal and happy life. But because of her gender, on which she had no control over, she faced humiliation and abuse.
Six or seven years later, she joined a factory at the Chittagong Export Processing Zone, where she had to go through the same sufferings all over again. She was fired from the organisation when they got to know about her real identity.
However, her fate changed when she met Shima, a staff from Denim Expert, who advised her to try for a job at Denim Expert Limited.
"I got the job. I love the working environment at Denim Expert Limited. My colleagues treat me very well. My neighbours also appreciate me because I work for a living. Everyone here praises our efforts. Denim Expert helped me change my life," Bithi said.
Denim Expert is the first company in Bangladesh that included the transgender community in the mainstream workplace with the help of Bandhu Social Welfare Society. Not just transgender, the company has a special programme for employing disabled people as well as trafficking survivors.
Recently, Denim Expert Limited has received "honourable mention" of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Excellence in sustainability and inclusivity in the apparel industry.
The WEP praised Denim Expert for its sustainable goals and targets across several areas including reducing consumption of energy and water, CO2 emissions, and waste generation, besides recognizing its role in providing opportunities to transgender people and human trafficking survivors.
"As a company, we believe in equality for all in the workplace regardless of gender, religion, class and creed. We believe opportunity should be given to individuals solely based on their capabilities and nothing else," Mostafiz Uddin, Owner & Managing Director of Denim Expert Ltd, shared the company's vision with The Business Standard.
Currently, eight transgender people are working in three different departments of the company: production, admin and sewing.
For this initiative, the company also bagged Bandhu's Alternate Livelihood Award in 2018.
Since its inception in 2009, Denim Expert has gained international accolades as a leading denim jeans manufacturer in Bangladesh.
It does not just excel in denim production; it also has been working relentlessly for social development. It maintains the social compliance standard and ensures a safe workplace environment for all.
In 2018, the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Winrock International in order to work jointly in raising awareness to prevent human trafficking and ensure safe migration and jobs for low skilled traffic victim-survivors.
Under the Bangladesh Counter-Trafficking–In-Person programme (BC/TIP) with the funding from USAID, Winrock has been working to curb trafficking in persons (TIP) in Bangladesh by targeting 20 trafficking-prone districts with interventions in preventing trafficking, protecting survivors and trafficking prosecution since 2014.
Besides building awareness, they also equip locals of the red zones with skills and tools to identify traffickers and prevent trafficking.
Now under the provision of the MoU, Winrock can refer trafficking survivors to Denim Expert for job placement.
"Human rights are of the utmost priority in our company. We have recruited a traffic victim-survivor, who happens to be our first employee named Riadul Hossain Ridoy. He has already commenced his work as a supervisor in the fishing department," said Mohiuddin Rubel, a director of the company and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
The company also has a supporting programme for the differently-abled community. The company offers training, jobs and arrangements to cater to the special needs of these people.
"In certain cases, job roles are also tailored as per the capabilities of the differently-abled employee. The company also provides bus service for the physically impaired staff to pick up and drop them off home," Rubel added.
At present, ten disabled people are working for the company.
It does not stop there. The company has solutions for employees with eyesight problems as well. A well-equipped eye-centre has been set up in partnership with Fred Hollows Foundation (FHF) at the factory premises.
Recently, the medical team of the company tracked records of eye-test and screening of all staff and, 420 of them have been identified with eyesight problems in between July 2019 and January 2020.
All the patients are provided with treatment and free spectacles to have better sight and work uninterruptedly.