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ILO global business forum highlights the importance of a sustainability vision for Bangladesh’s RMG sector

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Over 350 garment-sector representatives from the government, employers’ and workers’ organisations, development partners, global brands and retailers, manufacturers, civil society and academia came together at a high-level event in Dhaka

DHAKA (ILO News) – Representatives from the world’s largest retails brands met with leading figures from the country’s ready-made garment (RMG) sector at the Annual Bangladesh Business Forum in Dhaka last Wednesday, 2 October 2019.

Under the theme ‘Driving Sustainable Change’, the forum was organised by the Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) programme, a joint collaboration between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

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.

Discussions centred on the need for a globally competitive garment industry supported by improved labour market governance, effective social dialogue and responsible sourcing practices to ensure decent work and generate long-term prosperity for the industry. A number of speakers also highlighted ongoing issues facing the industry, including how BWB and its brand partners can continue to address gender and OSH non-compliances.

Over 350 RMG 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 ILO’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 ILO Bangladesh, noted in his opening remarks.

IFC Country Manager for Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, Wendy Werner, stated: “Together, IFC and ILO actively work to boost the competitiveness of the garment industry through the Better Work partnership The Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) programme aims to redress the gender imbalance in factories by training women for supervisory roles and improving line-level productivity.”

H.E. Julia Niblett, Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, highlighted that 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.”

The forum was attended by the Director of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Asif Ibrahim; 2nd Vice President of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), Fazlee Shamim Ehsan; Member Secretary of National Coordination Committee on Workers Education (NCCWE), Naimul Ahsan Jewel; and Secretary General of IndustriALL Bangladesh, Z. M. Kamrul Anam.

Dutch Ambassador to Bangladesh H.E Harry Verweij and Danish Ambassador H.E. 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 BWB’s priority was to ensure constituents and the private sector are in the driving seat and have the tools, framework and mindset that 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 (MoLE), called upon RMG business leaders to take greater ownership of the sustainability agenda to complement the efforts of the government and development partners.

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