BRAC, H&M Foundation to host global conference on Bangladesh apparel industry

  • News Desk, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-06-17 18:06:43 BdST

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Workers enter a garment factory in Dhaka's Tejgaon by maintaining physical distancing on Monday, Apr 5, 2021 as a weeklong lockdown began to contain a surge in coronavirus cases. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

A three-day global conference to safeguard the livelihood of the women workers in the readymade garment sector in Bangladesh is set to begin on Jun 22.

The event will be organised virtually as part of the project “Safeguarding through innovation and technology challenge” or STITCH of BRAC and H&M Foundation, a concern of the global apparel giant H&M Group.

The project aims at mapping the road for sustainable growth of the RMG industry through a multi-stakeholder approach.

The conference will bring together industry experts from around the world in a bid to protect the livelihoods of women garment workers caused mainly by automation.

Helena Helmersson, chief executive officer of H&M Group, and Faruque Hassan, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, among others, will attend the conference, the organisers said in a statement on Thursday.

Anyone interested can apply for registration through stitchforrmg.brac.net free of cost until Jun 19.

The project, currently a 13-month pilot from December 2020 to December 2021,  is working together with buyers, suppliers, and innovators through a series of cross-sector dialogues to create new avenues for employment of women, equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge to sustain their livelihoods in the future dominated by automation.

Although readymade garments still comprise the overwhelming share of Bangladesh’s export basket, around 83 percent in 2020, the RMG industry is experiencing increasing competition from other nations in the sector as they are progressively opting for automation, offering the buyers better efficiency and value.

It is estimated that around 60 percent workers in the sector will lose their jobs due to automation by 2041, the majority being women.

The insights and knowledge generated at the conference will be used to curate a global innovation challenge to bring ideas to increase relevant skill sets and enhance safeguarding of the workplace environment for women workers.

The winners of this innovation challenge will be nurtured and prototyped under the supervision of BRAC.

A fund worth $180,000 will be provided as grants to the winners for pilot implementation.

“Our long-term goal is to prepare and equip the women to work successfully alongside artificial intelligence and automation, and by this safeguard their livelihoods. The new technology can significantly improve female participation in economic life and enhance the social autonomy of women. Also, certain technologies might offer women the potential to bypass, or leapfrog, some of the traditional cultural and mobility barriers they face offline,” says Charlotte Brunnstrom, strategy lead at the H&M Foundation.

Asif Saleh, executive director of BRAC, said, “Women have played a big role in powering Bangladesh’s consistent economic growth.  RMG's rise can be singularly attributed to the participation of women in its workforce.

“As the sector is going through a shift, we can't leave the women behind. Through this project, we hope to mainstream innovations that can re-skill them and also scale up innovations that can make the industry ready for a future which is technology-driven and more equal.”