The Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC), the local factory inspection platform for the garment sector, should be strengthened soon so that the European agency Accord can hand over its operations for a smooth departure, said a top official of European foreign traders association Amfori yesterday.
Until the RCC is strengthened, the Accord might continue its inspection and remediation monitoring for workplace safety in Bangladesh, said Christian Ewert, president of Amfori, a Brussels-based organisation of over 2,000 retailers and brands with an annual turnover of over $2 trillion.
He said, over 200 signatories of the Accord were also members of the Amfori and Bangladesh was among the top three important sourcing destinations for the Amfori members.
Following a human tragedy, the buying community stepped forward by creating the Accord. Over the last five years, Bangladesh has come to have some of the safest garment factories in the world, said Ewert.
“The Accord in cooperation with the local industry has done an outstanding job in providing factory safety,” he said at a regular Amfori roundtable at The Westin Dhaka.
However, the job is not yet completed in a mindful transition to the RCC needs to be ensured in the interest of all parties involved, he said.
The roundtable was moderated by Daniel Seidl, founder of the Bay of Bengal Innovation Council, a newly launched organisation for promoting and branding Bangladesh and the associated region abroad.
“Gender equality can only be achieved by educating and empowering women inside and outside the workplace,” said the Amfori president.
The responsibility of achieving this lies with the Bangladesh government, business sector and society, he said.
“Bangladesh has become a place recognised beyond the traditional RMG sector and is set to accelerate in the future,” said Gowher Rizvi, the prime minister's international affairs adviser. “I highly appreciate, with all other institutions in Bangladesh, the efforts of Amfori and the Bay of Bengal Innovation Council. You are making a demand quite rightly, we appreciate it,” said Rizvi regarding the Accord's tenure extension.
“I honestly welcome the demand they have made for labour safety, workers' ability to unionise and seek higher wages. We are ourselves committed. We are signatory to the various ILO conventions,” he said.
“The pressure that they put on us was to expedite the realisation of our own goals. It was our own goals.”
“Inclusive workforce means that we have to include the mentally and physically challenged people in the workforce,” said Saiful Islam, president of the Leathergoods and Footwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association of Bangladesh.
He suggested that the government allow private operators instead of bureaucrats to manage the Chattogram port to make its operations more efficient.
He said if the port could be run efficiently, the country's GDP would increase by one percentage point in over a year.
The arrival of new entrepreneurs in the garment sector is decreasing for stringent compliance and for the necessity of investing large amounts of money, said Faruque Hassan, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
“Previously, an entrepreneur could start a business with a little amount of money, but now it is not possible. However, it is a matter of great pleasure that the new generation has been joining their ancestral business and growing,” Hassan said.
He said the Accord should leave the country as it has already completed its job. Hassan also said automation may not take over as early as predicted by some quarters in the Bangladesh garment sector.
Automation is expensive and it will take a lot of time to automate the sector. Even if automation comes into practice, there is little possibility of workers losing their jobs as predicted, he said.
“The image and perception of Bangladesh is often reduced to poverty, low payments and substandard workplace safety,” said Seidl of the Bay of Bengal Innovation Council.
“But Bangladesh is becoming a middle income country and very often stakeholders abroad are not aware of the progress and achievements the young country has made,” he said.
Debasish Kumar Saha, executive director of Fakir Apparels Limited, and Zahidullah, head of sustainability at DBL Group, also spoke.