On November 4th, 2023, a Learning Dissemination and Roundtable Discussion was convened jointly by LightCastle Partners and Policy Exchange of Bangladesh. During this event, findings from a detailed apparel sector assessment were unveiled along with policy recommendations for future-proofing the sector.
The comprehensive landscaping study titled “Threads of Progress: A Comprehensive Landscape Study of the Apparel Industry and the Future for Women Workers,” along with two Policy Briefs tailored for policymakers and industry leaders, sheds light on the pressing issues and policy imperatives within Bangladesh’s apparel sector. This collaborative effort engaged local and international stakeholders from the apparel ecosystem, incorporating the latest insights into its findings.
During the event, the study findings and the two Policy Briefs were presented to the Special Guests: Mr. Md. Abdus Samad Al Azad, Joint Secretary (FTA-1), Ministry of Commerce, and Mr. Shahidullah Azim, Vice President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). Dr. M. Masrur Reaz, Chairman, and CEO of Policy Exchange Bangladesh, moderated the discussion, ensuring a comprehensive exploration of the report’s implications.
Bunon 2030 – spearhead by LightCastle Partners, in collaboration with Policy Exchange– is part of the collective impact initiative of H&M Foundation’s “Oporajita: Collective Impact on the Future of Work in Bangladesh” project, managed by The Asia Foundation, aiming to empower Bangladeshi women garment workers in the face of increasing automation, decarbonization & circularity, and geopolitical turmoil, among others.
The study involved a detailed examination of the level of automation currently embedded within the apparel production process. It also analyzed global technology trends and assessed Bangladesh’s responses to retain competitiveness in the global market. As part of the industry landscaping study, the team directly engaged with over 40 organizations and stakeholders, including Global Apparel Buyers, Factory owners, Workers’ Associations, Development Organizations, and Academics. Additionally, the research team conducted a series of Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) sessions with female and male apparel sector workers.
The launch event featured a roundtable discussion with industry leaders, and Collective Impact partners of the Oporajita project, offering a meticulous exploration and constructive analysis of the report’s key findings and their implications for factory owners, industry leaders, development organizations, and policymakers. The discussion also delved into policy imperatives and strategies for driving systemic change under the uncertainties of the future. The scenario analysis, coupled with the policy brief, provides industry leaders and policymakers with the tools needed to proactively plan and adapt to evolving circumstances.
The report’s findings underscore the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the apparel industry, resulting in the cancellation of international orders and an estimated loss of USD 3.15 billion. This, in turn, had adverse effects on the physical health of garment workers and reduced employment opportunities. However, Bangladesh’s apparel exports made a slow but steady recovery, reaching USD 46.99 billion in the fiscal year 2022-23, marking a 10.27% increase from the previous year.
In light of these developments, the industry is determined to fortify itself against future shocks by adopting international best practices. The increasing automation in the industry is expected to reshape labor dynamics and skill requirements.
Simultaneously, Bangladesh should focus on formalizing recycling systems for textile waste, potentially generating over USD 3 billion in exported cotton value. Embracing sustainable growth and circular economy principles is crucial.
Additionally, the ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China offer opportunities for Bangladesh to expand its market presence. Sustainable sourcing of inputs is essential to reduce supply chain emissions and remain competitive on the global stage. Trade barriers may intensify competition from other countries, necessitating improvements in logistics to reduce shipment time and costs. Developments in feeder vessels, deep seaports, and increased port capacity offer potential cost and time savings.
Upcoming changes in policy and trade facilities due to LDC graduation, new Due Diligence, and Green Deal laws were also highlighted in the study, with an emphasis on focusing on nurturing FTAs and diversifying sourcing of apparel imports.
Furthermore, as technology evolves and reduces the demand for labor, Bangladesh must enhance its production capacity in higher value-added product categories. The report highlights the need for collective efforts to ensure the livelihoods and well-being of garment workers are not at the mercy of larger forces. It calls for collaborative action to create a competitive environment that supports workers’ livelihoods and aspirations.
Kazi Faisal Bin Seraj, Country Representative of The Asia Foundation, talked about the Oporajita project and the importance of the collective impact initiative. Zahedul Amin, Co-Founder and Director of LightCastle Partners gave the opening remarks, followed by a Keynote Presentation by Mrinmoy Sobhan, Business Consultant, and Radi Shafiq, Portfolio Manager & Principal Business Consultant at LightCastle Partners. Samiha Anwar, Business Consultant at LightCastle Partners— anchored the event and launched the website for Bunon 2030. During the roundtable, insightful contributions were made by Dr. Khondaker Abdullah-Al-Mamun, Professor at UIU, Amer Salim, Director at Knit Asia Ltd., Dr. Julia Ahmed, Independent Consultant, and Samin Nower Kashmy, Program Director at The Asia Foundation among others.
The Bunon 2030 publications are publicly available and can be downloaded from: https://www.lightcastlebd.com/bunon2030/