"You can’t sell anything if you can’t tell anything,” stated Beth Comstock, former vice chair of General Electric, and I feel this is true when we consider the advances in sustainability made by the apparel industry of Bangladesh and the growing global awareness of the importance of the sustainability agenda.
A recent survey, published in October by McKinsey & Company, “Fashion’s New Must Have: Sustainable Sourcing at Scale” highlights the importance of sustainability and transparency for 64 Chief Purchasing Officers (CPOs) of leading apparel brands, responsible for a total sourcing value of over US $100 billion.
A recurring theme that emerges from the report is that there is no doubt “that sustainable sourcing at scale is a must for apparel companies over the next five years—and that consumer demand for sustainable fashion is growing rapidly”.
This can be a good thing for the Bangladesh RMG sector; since 2013, as all of us who are involved in the RMG sector are aware, our apparel industry has undergone a wholesale programme of remediation under the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh worker safety. In addition to this, a four-year research project, “Mapping in Bangladesh”, was launched in April 2017 to provide a digital map with accurate and credible information on factories in the country.
These processes undertaken by the Bangladesh apparel industry were recognised favourably in the McKinsey report, but there was no mention of other achievements of the sector. This led me to think: Why are we not promoting the sustainable advances that have been made by the Bangladesh RMG industry over recent years and why are they not getting the international recognition they, quite rightly, deserve?
The reason, I believe, is quite simple: We as an industry and indeed, as a nation, have not been promoting the sustainable advances we have made effectively enough and now is the time, I feel, when we should begin to take pride in the apparel industry’s achievements and not be shy of actively informing the global audience about the sustainable advances made in Bangladesh.
The apparel and textile manufacturers in Bangladesh have come a long way from the nadir of 2013’s Rana Plaza disaster and can be proud of the fact that we now have some of the most exemplary examples of compliant factories around the globe.
This is not mere hyperbole; it was borne out by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), a Washington-based non-profit organisation that promotes sustainability in building design, construction and operation.
“In every consideration, Bangladesh has the highest number of green garment factories in the world,” said the USGBC and, it has to be said, the numbers are impressive!
25 Bangladeshi apparel factories—the highest number of platinum-rated garment factories in the world—have achieved the highest certificate provided by the USGBC. In addition, there are some 280 recognised green factories in Bangladesh, amongst which some 90 are certified, and are being recognised for best practices in design, construction and operations that protect the environment as well as workers’ safety and well-being.
Amongst the top 10 green factories in the world recognised by the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) programme, seven are operating in Bangladesh.
This is a heartening development for the apparel sector of Bangladesh. Our beloved industry’s image has been severely tarnished by the events of 2013 and dramatic improvements have been made throughout the industry as a result, for the benefit of all workers and the environment. However, despite the recognition of internationally respected organisations, such as the USGBC, is the true picture of the state of Bangladesh’s apparel industry being conveyed to our existing customers and the wider world at large?
I would humbly suggest the answer to this question is a simple “no” and that is what I believe needs to change. Allow me to present one example that encapsulates the argument I would like to make. As a factory owner myself, I avidly listen and learn from the competition I face internationally. By attending trade fairs worldwide, meeting with and learning from the good and the bad steps that my peers have taken, I can grow my business in a responsible manner.
One glaring fact that has become apparent to me is the ability of international apparel operations (whether they be garment manufactures, fabric mills, machine or chemical suppliers) to promote their sustainable credentials, not only to the immediate trade customer but to the end consumer as well.
This is something that is shockingly lacking here in Bangladesh. As I have already highlighted above, there is a vast amount of progress that has been made within the nation’s apparel sector, much of which required massive capital investment by the companies involved, but where is the story?
Yes, there is a lot of press coverage nationally regarding the changing face of the Bangladesh apparel industry, but, in reality, how many of our existing, or potential, business partners actually get exposure to this type of media? I would suggest some do, but not enough to garner the recognition that the improvements being made by the Bangladesh apparel industry deserve.
Given the importance of sustainable, responsible business practices, as borne out by the McKinsey report and the progress that Bangladesh has made, should we not be making more “noise” about the nation’s industry?
Promotion, backed up with hard facts, can change perceptions. This is exactly what is required for the Bangladesh RMG sector as we enter into a new decade. Collectively, as an industry, we need to unite and start shouting form the rooftops about the improvements and investments that have been made to both secure confidence with existing customers and to generate interest in new markets.
I will leave the closing statement to Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks: “If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand”. With that in mind, I truly believe that the promotion of the advances in sustainability made by the Bangladesh RMG sector to a global audience will re-enforce existing business relationships and allow us to engage with new business partners.
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@example.com.