• November 28, 2022

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Nearly a decade after the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, where 1,321 factory workers were killed in a fire due to a lack of safety precautions, the country is putting out the welcome mat for brands and retailers. An event in November in Dhaka, called Made in Bangladesh Week, will be one of the largest gatherings of the Bangladesh apparel industry and its global partners. Big global brands attending include Puma, Marks & Spencer and Primark.

A spokesperson for the Bangladesh RMG industry, said, “The Bangladesh Apparel Exchange has been really focused on promoting the Bangladesh apparel industry. Lots of big brands are going to be over there. It’s really to talk about some of the progress that’s been made along the lines of safety, sustainability and innovation.”

The CEO of the Bangladesh Apparel Exchange, Mustafiz Uddin, has been pushing for progress in the Bangladesh apparel industry. Uddin owns a factory called, Denim Expert, and has been flying the flag for Bangladesh and also pushing for positive progress.

“The Ranah Plaza tragedy was a big inflection point for a lot of people,” said the Bangladesh RMG industry spokesperson. “We’re approaching that 10-year anniversary. I guess it’s time to open the doors of the industry to the world and show some of the progress that’s been made but also talk quite candidly about the work that still needs to be done across the industry, and of course, the industry is thinking about other sourcing nations as well.

“What we’ve got is quite a unique opportunity and Uddin is fantastic in terms of access,” said the spokesperson. “He’s pretty much happy to fully open the doors in terms of transparency, whether to provide factory tours or speaking to workers. There’s also another association that he’s doing the event with, the BGMEA, the industry association.

“What Uddin is really keen on doing is driving transparency, so those sorts of things don’t happen, and he’s really pushing for more of that,” the spokesperson said. “The level of improvements the company made from 10 years ago are quite substantial, but that’s not to say that there’s still more that needs to be done.

“Rana Plaza was a tragedy for our country and an inflection point for our industry – everyone involved in the RMG sector in Bangladesh and around the world has a collective responsibility to ensure that nothing like that can ever be allowed to happen again,” the spokesperson said.

Uddin is trying to find places where there are instances of best practices that other people can learn from and try to continue to build on progress. “A lot of people still think Bangladesh is a place where the conditions are really bad, and Uddin wants to change the narrative around that to a certain degree and focus not only on the positive progress that’s been made but also focus on the progress that still needs to be done,” the spokesperson said. “What needs to be done is to build on the improvement that’s already been made, which is really quite substantial in the areas of health and safety, sustainability, and innovation.

“What we’ve seen, are the improvements in health and safety, which are pretty clear,” the spokesperson said. “Clearly, they needed to make some major changes after what happened and they’ve certainly been made. There are lots of proof points, lots of evidence to suggest that the progress being made in that area is very significant.”

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Katrina Caspelich, director of marketing at Remake, a 501(c)3 nonprofit fighting for climate justice and fair pay in the clothing industry, noted that following the disaster, over 200 brands signed The Bangladesh Accord on fire safety after outcries from around the world pressured the fashion industry to do better. Now, with the Accord expired, “time is ticking to ensure safety for garment workers in Bangladesh,” Caspelich said.

In 2021, the safety of Bangladesh’s garment factory workers hung in the balance as representatives from global trade unions and major apparel brands negotiated if there would be a future for the Bangladesh Accord. On August 25th, 2021, after months of campaigning by citizens and workers’ rights groups, a new, two-year binding agreement was accepted to both renew and expand the life-saving Accord to new garment-producing countries as well as to add additional protections for worker health and wellbeing.

So far, 183 brands have signed on to the new International Accord including, Adidas, American Eagle, ASOS, Bestseller, Boohoo, C&A, Esprit, H&M, Inditex (Zara), Mango, Marks & Spencer, Next, Primark, Puma, PVH
PVH
(Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger) and Uniqlo.

However, there are still dozens of major brands such as Levi’s that have yet to sign on to the new agreement, leaving workers lives in peril.

Remake and PayUpFashion in May launched Accord trackers in alliance with the Clean Clothes Campaign and other global unions to galvanize citizens to call on some of their favorite fashion brands to support the Accord.

Some tangible examples of improvement in Bangladesh include public inspection reports on factories, which are available online. A recent McKinsey report called Bangladesh’s RMG ready-made garments sector a leader in transparency in terms of factory safety and value chain responsibility. QIMA, a report, ranked Bangladesh’s garment industry second in ethical manufacturing and ethical standards of its labor force, and a study by the University of Washington and Yale University’s School of Management, found that garment factories near villages will result in 27% more young girls in school, who gain 50% more schooling.

Bangladesh is also improving sustainability. It has the highest number of LEED certified green garment factories with 47 Platinum, 96 Gold, 10 Silver and 4 certified. Another 500 factories are in the process of getting certification, the spokesperson said. One of the biggest areas of improvement in apparel manufacturing is water. Factories across Bangladesh are incorporating technologies like later washing, which doesn’t use any chemicals or water, and ozone washing to change colors without water.

More than 4 million people in Bangladesh work in the apparel industry, so if you support Bangladesh apparel, you support a whole nation. In terms of social impact, 68% of people working in the garment industry would otherwise be unemployed; 32% were previously employed; 29% were students and nearly 7% of the workers were housewives.

Factories are using innovation to build resilience and protect workers. Auto trimmers save 1.57 minutes per piece and waste is used to make other apparel such as underwear. Work has begun to create a center for innovation and occupational safety and health through technology and to spark product and skills innovation, launching during Bangladesh Week.

“It seems that fashion brands have learned nothing from Rana Plaza or the Covid-19 pandemic when garment makers were sickened and died on the job,” Ayesha Barenblat, CEO and founder of Remake. “The accord is the singular most successful agreement to keep makers safe, given its binding nature.”

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