Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is changing the landscape of  global economy and industrialization in particular, Bangladesh  cannot be left alone 

We are living in an era of disruption where things are changing so fast that very little is time to adjust to one change in technology, before another one comes along. We are constantly trying to keep up because technological innovations are imperative not only to enhance competitiveness but also make businesses sustainable.  

In the 21st century business as usual is no more an option as sustainability has increasingly become a crucial part of it. Sustainability in business is widely known 

to be dealing with human and environmental considerations where workers,  employers, buyers, consumers and stakeholders work together to achieve the desired prosperity and shared benefits of all. 

But sustainability of an industry cannot be determined only by the human considerations. Ensuring industrial competitiveness and innovation are also a critical pillar of sustainability that ensures economic viability of business. Over the past decade Bangladesh made significant progress in transforming its apparel industry in terms of safety, remediation of factories, capacity building of institutions, and improving workers’ rights. 

Bangladesh has significantly moved towards cleaner and greener manufacturing in recent years. The country is the home of the highest number of green garment factories in the world. We have 144 LEED factories certified by the U.S. Green  Building Council (USGBC) of which 41 are Platinum, 89 Gold, 12 Silver, and 3  certified factories. 39 out of 100 top ranking green factories are located in  Bangladesh. 

But the progress of the industry in terms of competitiveness, efficiency and innovation remains insignificant. The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is changing the landscape of global economy and industrialization in particular, Bangladesh cannot be left alone. The use of modern technology is vital in increasing our competitiveness. 

Sustainability and digitalization are interlinked and greatly complements each other. Smart supply chain management is also a great way to become resource  efficient, environment friendly, cost competitiveand sustainable in the long run. Automation and supply chain digitization, especially the use of advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence, IOT and Blockchain, are powerful tool for us in this  virtually connected world and very important for us to improve lead time,  productivity and competitiveness. 

At the same time global buyers are looking for more sustainable manufacturing sources, which are resource efficient. Without the use of technology, optimum use of water, energy and other resources cannot be ensured. Therefore, we need to  inspire the use of fourth generation technologies in our supply chain. One of the major concerns of digitalization in a populous country like Bangladesh is its impact on job market. As much as we are saying automation is important, we are equally concerned about jobs and livelihoods.

Looking through the lenses of the RMG industry, the entire manufacturing process cannot be replaced by machines and we will require humans to still run significant parts of the operations. We see this as an opportunity to develop newer skills. If efficiency and competitiveness can be enhanced, it will certainly generate more business, which would require more employment in labor-intensive manufacturing.  In fact, technology upgrades will open up many new jobs, especially to operate  the advanced machines and processes. 

The 4IR is feared to bring adverse consequences on female employment in lowskilled categories in particular. Indeed, it’s a serious challenge as the presence of women in higher skill grades is still insignificant in the RMG industry. However, we have the scope to turn the challenge into opportunity if we can prepare our existing women workforce with new skills while updating our national curriculum for the next generation with knowledge and skills required to face the challenges of 4IR and reap its benefits. We hope the next step of women taking leadership starts from this industry and we are trying our best to create a  conducive environment. 

With that aim to improve skills for workers, especially women, BGMEA is setting up a centre for productivity and innovation. The centre will help develop the  industry to adapt to the challenges of 4IR, and women will be at the forefront. We are working to create higher education opportunity for girls working in  garment factories. Currently 60 young female workers have enrolled in the Asian  University for Women to pursue higher studies. While digitalization is inevitable,  adapting women to changes and enabling them through digital literacy and skills will foment women’s participation in higher positions. 

We have also engaged in dialogue with other industry actors through BRAC’s  STITCH for RMG Global Innovation Conference, as we believe that a multi stakeholder approach can benefit our preparations for the future. The recommendations from the conference will shape the STITCH for RMG  Global Innovation Challenge. We believe that scouting and growing innovations for our industry through such global challenges and competitions can help boost our competitiveness and resilience. 

The readymade garment industry is the key driver of our economy through its contribution to GDP, export earnings and mostly importantly generating employment for millions of people. So undoubtedly the competitiveness of this  industry is crucial for the sustenance of our economic growth, and technology will play a vital role in this regard.

The vision for a Digital Bangladesh was shared by our Honorable Prime Minister  Sheikh Hasina is turning out to be the game changer for our nation. As we have a big vision for growth in the future, technology will be a vital role for  the next stage of our industrialization with regards to sustainability,  competitiveness and creating decent employment. 

Our success will depend mainly on developing skills and efficiency for our people,  and creating decent jobs for them. We can ensure better livelihoods if we can create better jobs for them, and better jobs can be created through enhancing  skills and value of products. Technological advancement would be our new horizon of opportunities and we have to learn to keep pace with it. 

Author:

Faruque Hassan is the president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and  Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the managing director of Giant Group