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For the sustainable development of our apparel industry

  • Published at 12:17 am December 9th, 2019
Always evolving Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

We need to start investing in the future of RMG

Nelson Mandela, the revered political leader, philanthropist and president of South Africa, said that “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Wise words that should be considered when we consider the role education can play in the continuing development of a sustainable ready-made garment (RMG) industry in Bangladesh.

With the world’s population reaching seven billion people and rising, with increasingly limited natural resources globally, it has never been more pertinent to ensure the education of the next generation of Bangladesh apparel industry professionals in sustainable development practices.

As was recently highlighted by UNESCO: “There is growing international recognition of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as an integral element of quality education and a key enabler for sustainable development.” Given the importance of the topic, we need to be encouraging the introduction of ESD in the curriculum of our secondary and higher education tiers in Bangladesh.

The benefits of the establishment of an effective ESD system are manifold, and of particular importance to the textile and RMG industries of our nation. As was highlighted during a panel discussion at the recent November edition of Bangladesh Denim Expo, where improvements needed to increase the sustainable credentials of the Bangladesh denim industry were discussed, education in sustainable practices is woefully lacking in Bangladesh today.

We are not alone in this. The UNESCO report stresses that, despite the importance of ESD systems, the uptake in the Western world is negligible. This has been echoed in recent debates during the United Kingdom’s election campaign, with politicians from all parties promoting policies to increase the awareness of sustainability in the secondary and higher education tiers. I feel now is the time for Bangladesh to adopt a proactive approach to remedy the situation.

The importance of the RMG sector and related textile industries to Bangladesh cannot be emphasized enough. Since its foundation, the RMG sector has enjoyed rapid expansion, reaching an audience of international buyers and contributing to 84% of our nation’s GDP, employing some four million people, and contributing over $34 billion to the economy.

As all of us involved in the sector are increasingly aware, the industry is facing challenging times. We face increased price pressures, increased customer demands and, as we are all aware, a growing demand to operate in a sustainable, ethical transparent manner.

Given the importance of sustainability to the RMG industry and for the wider beneficial effects for the nation, should we not all be encouraging a fresh approach as to how the subject of sustainability is addressed throughout our education system? How can we expect to develop in a truly sustainable manner both as an industry and a country if the lifeblood of the sector, our next generation of RMG industry employees, are not aware of sustainable issues and are not au fait with the benefits that they can bring?

However, in a climate where sustainability issues are becoming increasingly more critical, the Bangladesh education system is sadly lacking in providing the necessary education in these fields to the next generation.

UNESCO specifies that the education for sustainable development involves integrating key sustainable development issues into teaching and learning. Included in this program should be instructions regarding climate change, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction, and sustainable consumption. 

ESD consequently promotes and enables competencies including critical thinking, the imagining of future scenarios and making decisions in a collaborative way. Equally important is to expose students to advances in technology and sustainable practices and systems and the best way to implement these.

Imagine, if you will, the advantages to be gained by the RMG sector if a system of education in sustainability was introduced in the country. We would have, after a period of time, access to higher education graduates possessing ingrained competence in the field of sustainability. Over and above that we would be able to show to the global community that we are pro-actively developing sustainable thinking and practices amongst the next generation.

As opposed to having to learn “on the ground” in the workplace, this new generation of RMG industry employees would be able to contribute in a positive manner in areas of sustainability and, quite possibly, be able to offer a fresh outlook on sustainable initiatives that the industry could adopt and pass these to the existing management teams and business owners.

Advancing this sustainable development education approach will necessitate involvement and funding from government and educational bodies and, most importantly, interaction from industry leaders from the RMG sector. 

It will take time -- Rome was not built in a day. However, by taking the lead in this field, we have the opportunity to show our customers, business partners, and the wider global community that we, as an industry and a nation we are both sincere about the sustainability agenda and are, truly, leading where others can only follow.

We need to see this as an important investment for the sustainable future of the nation’s RMG industry and, more importantly, for the long-term environmental and social benefits for the nation as a whole.   

Our industry will face many challenges over the years ahead and we need to be fully prepared to ensure that it is “match fit.” Encouraging the development of the next generation of apparel and textile industry employees in sustainable issues will bring long-term benefits to aid the RMG sector’s evolution and the nation’s elevation to developing country status.

As an industry and as a nation as a whole, we need to take the responsibility of ensuring the education of sustainable practices and stressing their importance for the long-term benefit of the apparel and textiles sectors and the planet as a whole. Education in sustainable development will encourage the next generation of apparel industry drivers to change the way they think and to work in a manner that ensures a sustainable, responsible future for our industry. 

Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). He can be reached at [email protected].