According to a coalition of trade industry groups, NGOs and academics, Bangladesh will soon have the world’s most transparent garment industry. Over the weekend, Dhaka-based BRAC University’s Center for Entrepreneurship Development (CED) expanded on this point with its announcement of a mapping tool that will include factory names and locations, the numbers of workers, export countries, certifications and fashion brand customers.
This online tool, DRFM-B, builds upon BRAC’s efforts to map as many of Bangladesh’s garment factories as possible. When TriplePundit spoke with a BRAC professor last year, the university had started a pilot project that covered 450 factories in the greater Dhaka region. That pilot proved to be widely successful and popular. Now the mapping tool aims to be much more comprehensive, as verification will be crowdsourced from the public to ensure that all data remains as updated and accurate as possible.
Supporters of this digital mapping project include the large national trade groups, with much of the funding provided by the C&A Foundation. DRFM-B’s progress will be monitored by a multi-stakeholder advisory committee, which includes representatives of labor groups, NGOs, employers, and trade associations.
In a public statement, the C&A Foundation said the tool will launch online in mid-2018, with the mapping of all 20 garment districts in Bangladesh to be included by 2021. As a result, the stakeholders involved in the development of this tool say it will make Bangladesh’s apparel sector the most transparent one on the planet.
Bangladesh’s apparel industry has grown at a voracious rate since its origins 30 years ago, and has since become one of the country’s most important cash generators with an estimated value approaching $30 billion annually. The sector’s growth has resulted in more jobs while boosting the country’s exports, but it has also festered a bevy of social and environmental problems. Accusations of child labor have long rocked the country’s apparel sector, and complaints about worker safety were endemic across many factories.
Never mind emerging competition from upstart economies in Africa, as well as the strength of apparel sectors in mainstays such as China, Vietnam and India. The sector can forget about its goals to become a $50 billion juggernaut if brands and consumers become more repelled by any perception that Bangladesh is prioritizing export statistics over workers’ rights.
The Rana Plaza factory collapse four years ago symbolized everything that had gone wrong with this industry and how its factories too frequently treated employees. Many companies pledged to clean up their supply chains after what happened at Rana Plaza; others delayed making any changes until the public outcry became too loud to ignore.
The DRFM-B mapping tool builds upon promises by more companies to increase the sector’s transparency and traceability. The UK retailer Marks & Spencer is one example of a company that allowed stakeholders to view online the factories from which it sourced garments. After criticism and accusations that some of Bangladeshi workers endured 100-hour weeks to sew and stitch its branded garments, Gap Inc. announced last year it would publicly disclose its suppliers within the country. Earlier this year, H&M said it would instruct manufacturers within its supply chain to pay their employees via digital technology instead of dispersing their salaries in cash.
Nevertheless, the Bangladeshi garment sector is still plagued by several problems. Observers pointed to a blast last month in an apparel factory outside of Dhaka, which killed 10 people and injured dozens more. But worker safety goes beyond factory inspections and compliance measures. As a report issued two weeks ago by the Global Fund for Women outlines, gender-based violence is rampant across within the industry, and two-thirds of the workforce is staffed by women. More transparency about all working conditions is about more than ensuring physical safety – the sector also has a long road ahead to prove that at a minimum, employment at a Bangladeshi garment factory can be tolerable.
Image credit: C&A Foundation