The global media continue to project the RMG sector as exploitative, as companies incorporating best practices rarely make news stories
The readymade garment (RMG) sector in Bangladesh punches well below its weight.
Despite decades of improvement, the global media continue to project the RMG sector as exploitative, as companies incorporating best practices rarely make news stories.
But, the RMG made quite substantial progress, especially after it witnessed the biggest tragedy– the Rana Plaza incident – which exceeded 1,100 deaths and injured over 2,000.
It brought together more than 220 global brands – primarily European – and global trade unions in signing the ground-breaking legally binding agreement – the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in May 2013.
It helped Bangladesh emerge as a global role model of safe working practices as occupation safety compliant mechanisms improved.
Workers gained awareness of their rights and legal right to refuse dangerous works.
Additionally, a great momentum persisted within the garment factory owners to improve safety standards contributing to improved working conditions in garment factories, minimizing incidents.
Apart from making tremendous developments in factory safety compliance, Bangladeshi factories have also emerged as ideal examples of green fashionwear production.
BGMEA is a member of the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, aiming to reduce 30% Greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
And the country is faring well in the green RMG movement as the BGMEA has been promoting Green Energy in the sector for the last few years, and this slow-moving shift has proven to be quite beneficial to the industry.
Today, the country has one of the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, most widely used green building rating system factories in the world, of which 144 are among the highest-rated LEED Platinum denim factories, knitting factories, washing plants, and textile mills globally.
And 500 more are in the process of acquiring this certification.
As production cost has increased due to a rise in electricity bills and wages, Green Energy buildings will be a viable alternative in the future to lessen the production cost.
Installation of energy-efficient equipment saves water, electricity and is environmentally friendly.
However, machineries promoting environmentally friendly productions have high capital expenditure, and buyers are unwilling to pay additional premiums.
But these machineries save up to 40% on water and electricity consumption.
Already some factories in Bangladesh have installed solar panels as a cost-cutting mechanism.
But the return-on-investment settles only after five years, so the government needs to increase incentives for factories to invest, such as providing low interest or interest-free loans or tax holidays to expand the growth of renewable technology.
Further, consumers in our primary export destination – the European Union – are increasingly getting aware of the impact of their buying practices on the labour conditions and the environment.
Many are ditching cheap brands that produce fast fashion items and instead opting for more durable fashion wear and have been produced with minimal carbon footprints.
Cheap products are perceived particularly in Western European countries as exploitative; hence, consumers are willing to spend extra cash to purchase products with a distinct label like "organic."
Besides, policy shifts have also taken place in export destinations: The European Union, for instance, have recently entered into the Green Deal, which aims to make it a climate-neutral continent by 2050.
Additionally, Bangladesh’s development partner, Germany, is working with the RMG industry to enhance its transition to Green Energy, and the RMG sector is one of its priority areas.
Therefore, negotiating with the buyers is crucial for better premiums and recognizing the green factories in their fashionwear.
Manufactured products could be distinguished by attaching with an extra tag.
It could state the name of the factory, details about the production site, and the name of the worker who produced it.
A personalized touch will boost its sales, and the excess profits could be redirected to factories to further enhance the workers’ well-being.
Given that some factories are operating at a very low-profit margin or zero profit for maintaining high production standards, this is an absolute necessity in gaining the right price for the item.
Many factories have already gone out of business.
Opening a factory is no longer as profitable as it once was, as production costs increased while selling prices have not.
Hence, a greater need persists in the RMG sector to rebrand itself and aim for better negotiation.
The garment factory owners gain their bargaining power only by effectively uplifting the sector’s international image.
Progress is slow, and all baby steps should be celebrated.
Recently, the BGMEA took a bold step by objecting to derogatory remarks about the “Made in Bangladesh” label in the latest French movie circulating on Netflix; prompt actions were taken due to the complaint.
Our media has a crucial role in this regard and makes news stories about model factories.
Some owners continued to pay their workers out of moral obligation even though they had few orders, and at times, the buyers cancelled orders at the last minute resulting in huge losses.
But these stories rarely received any coverage.
Unfortunately, negative stories attract the attention of the media houses.
Positive stories will also inspire others to enact changes in the system and improve the sector’s international image.
Namia Akhtar is a development professional