Experts discuss the challenges and opportunities in strengthening sustainability and women empowerment in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment (RMG) sector.
“When we talk about sustainability and ethical business practices in the garment sector, we must think about innovative business models to sustain our efforts instead of depending on donor funding,” said the Executive Director of Sajida Foundation during a panel discussion facilitated by SNV’s Working with Women-II project.
The panel discussion on “Shifting Compliance into Responsible Business Practices: a new business model for sustainability and women empowerment” was part of the 1st National Compliance Carnival 2018 held on 20 April in Dhaka. It was jointly organised by the Institute of Compliance Professionals (ICP) and RMG Times, with around 1,500 compliance professionals from the garment industry attending the event.
The event saw the participation of representatives from the RMG industry, international brands, NGOs, private and education sector who discussed best ethical business practices, how to support business sustainability and women empowerment in Bangladesh’s garment sector.
The following panellists joined the discussion: Ms. Zahida Fizza Kabir, Executive Director of Sajida Foundation; Mr. Thomas Radal, Regional Social and Environmental Manager of Carrefour; Ms. Shwapna Bhowmick, Country Head of Marks & Spencer Bangladesh; Mr. Mohim Hasan, MD & CEO of Norther Torshifa Group; and Professor ANM Meshquat Uddin, Vice-Chancellor of Southeast University. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Rubana Huq, Managing Director of Mohammadi Group.
“Sustainable growth of the RMG industry is a shared responsibility between all parties including manufacturers, buyers, workers, government, civil society and media,” said Ms. Farhtheeba Rahat Khan - Team Leader of SNV's Working with Women-II project, in her keynote speech.
During the panel, Ms. Zahida Fizza Kabir - Sajida Foundation Executive Director, highlighted the need for more efforts towards sustainability, women empowerment through technology adoption and youth skills development. Despite their qualifications, women still face discrimination in the private sector. For example, female employment is often affected by the fact that employers do not provide six-month maternity leave, added Dr. ANM Meshquat Uddin - Southeast University Vice-Chancellor.
Mr. Mohim Hasan - MD & CEO of Northern Tosrifa Group, noted that this is an important time for the garment industry to focus on responsible business practices. He invited all the stakeholders to promote the existing good practices and encouraged the factory owners to do more for the health and well-being of their workers. “We should not overlook the good practices in the RMG sector just because there are some small weaknesses,” he said.
In addition, Mr. Thomas Radal - Carrefour Regional Social and Environmental Manager, stressed out the importance of engaging consumers and building their trust by informing them about the innovative solutions currently benefiting businesses and workers.
Contributing to the health and well-being of workers is an investment that brings business benefits. "Sustainability is no longer a choice but a mandatory undertaking for businesses and brands," remarked Ms. Shwapna Bhowmick - Country Director of Marks & Spencer Bangladesh. “Every stakeholder is equally responsible to make the RMG sector sustainable as 80% of our total exports comes from this sector,” she said. "Women must work hard for their empowerment. and sometimes you will need to run double the speed of the men,” she concluded.
Moderator Ms. Rubana Huq praised the good efforts of the private sector, international buyers and NGOs in promoting responsible business practices, sustainability and women empowerment in the garment sector and in the society. Referring to best business practices shared by the participants in the panel, she emphasised the need to expand the research in best practices for workers in the garment sector.