Empowering Women in Apparel – Voices, Struggles, and Hopes for Wellbeing

LightCastle Analytics Wing
March 20, 2024

LightCastle Partners, in collaboration with Policy Exchange Bangladesh, orchestrated a pivotal dialogue event on February 22, 2024, in Dhaka, aimed at uniting key stakeholders in the apparel industry to collaboratively enhance worker well-being, particularly for female workers. This event exemplifies LightCastle’s commitment to fostering collaboration within the apparel ecosystem through research, private-sector engagement, and advocacy initiatives.

The dialogue event brought together industry leaders, policymakers, development partners, innovators, and academics to explore the complexities of upcoming transformations in the apparel industry. The objectives of the dialogue included gaining insights into the importance of worker wellbeing and its connection to productivity, exploring opportunities for reskilling and upskilling workers to future-proof them from automation risks, and addressing concerns related to the upskilling and career advancement of female apparel workers.

The event, titled ‘Embracing Wellbeing: Nurturing the Future of Apparel Workers in the Industry,’ was a part of the Bunon 2030 program. This initiative is dedicated to empowering Bangladeshi women garment workers in the face of challenges such as increasing automation, geopolitical turmoil, circularity, and decarbonization. Bunon 2030 is a component 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.

Based on 2023 data from the Export Promotion Bureau, the apparel sector remains a cornerstone of Bangladesh’s economy, contributing significantly to 84.5% of the country’s exports and employing approximately 49 lakh workers, with 60% of them being women. Despite the pivotal role played by women in this industry, the effective implementation of their rights faces numerous hurdles. The competitive dynamics of the market and the increasing impact of automation in the garment sector further compound these challenges, instilling concerns among workers about potential job losses. This raises critical questions about the need for a comprehensive examination of the rights and well-being of women working in Bangladesh’s apparel industry amidst evolving economic and technological landscapes.

Discussions during the dialogue underscored the necessity of a concerted effort to enhance the productivity and well-being of workers for sustainable industry growth. This requires a focus on improving the health of women workers, promoting financial inclusion, and facilitating skills development to align with the industry’s changing landscape. A comprehensive strategy addressing these aspects is essential to create a resilient and equitable environment for women in the apparel sector.

The event kicked off with opening remarks from Ainee Islam (Program Director, The Asia Foundation), Zahedul Amin (Co-Founder and Director, LightCastle Partners), and Dr. M Masrur Reaz (Chairman, Policy Exchange Bangladesh). Zahedul Amin emphasized a shift in perspective, stating, “We should look at labor as a productivity center rather than a cost center.

Our country is ahead of India and Pakistan in terms of women engagement; we should start comparing ourselves with the top countries.” Ainee Islam underscored collaboration as the main focus of the program, stating, “Oporajita’s primary focus is to include the primary actors, women workers, inclusivity. We are trying to make them more competitive in the RMG sector through strategic initiatives.”

Furthermore, Dr. M Masrur Reaz highlighted the pivotal role of Bunon 2030, stating, “The future work of Bunon 2030 will determine whether Bangladesh can achieve inclusive growth with 4 million direct employment, a primary factor for driving consumption in our economy.” Following the opening remarks, Dr. Julia Ahmed, an independent consultant, shared insights and moderated a discussion on the health of women workers in the garment sector, safe work environments, and social rights. The panel included Amer Salim (Director, Knit Asia), Sirajul Islam Rony (President of Bangladesh National Garments Workers Employees League), and Dr. Mehruna Islam Chowdhury (Business and Human Rights Specialist, UNDP).

The discussion highlighted the global shift toward automation in the garment industry and acknowledged the challenges for workers. The panelists called for initiatives that enhance skills, establish equitable pay practices, and empower women for leadership roles in the industry. Key focal points included hygiene concerns, inadequate wages, and efforts to retain workers amid automation in the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector.

Published BY: LightCastle Analytics Wing

At LightCastle, we take a systemic and data-driven approach to create opportunities for growth and impact. We are an international management consulting firm which creates systemic and data-driven opportunities for growth and impact in emerging markets. By collaborating with development partners and leveraging the power of the private sector, we strive to boost economies, inspire businesses, and change lives at scale.

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