Apparel, Fashion & Retail

Apparel industry continues marathon in sustainability

Published: January 4, 2022

Fashion, being one of the major polluting industries, can no longer evade responsibility. The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow witnessed a boisterous presence of the fashion industry as it is now considered central to climate conversation due to its role in the climate crisis.

This is a big push for the industry to act on protecting the environment from the impacts of climate change. As the world’s second-largest garment exporter, Bangladesh’s garment industry has made great strides over the past years in integrating sustainability into the core of its operations.

This is evident from the fact that Bangladesh has the highest number of green garment factories in the world with 152 LEED-certified green factories, of which 44 are platinum rated and 94 are gold rated. Moreover, 40 out of the top 100 green factories in the world belong to Bangladesh while 500 more are in the process of getting certification. This proves our focused drive towards environmental sustainability. Moreover, considering the gravity of global warming, we are determined and committed to carrying forward the environmental sustainability that we have achieved so far.

That is why while leading a delegation of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) at the COP26, we reaffirmed our commitment to climate action. We had earlier signed the UNFCCC’s Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, which calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the garment sector by 30 percent by 2030. Besides, it was indeed a great pleasure and honor for us to represent Bangladesh at the COP26 by setting up a “Bangladesh Pavilion” at the summit’s official venue. The pavilion seemed like a mini-Bangladesh at the summit, where at least 120 heads of state and representatives from nearly 200 countries attended.

Our main goal was to showcase all the good works of Bangladesh’s garment industry on sustainability while highlighting the green revolutions in our factories. We presented the garment industry’s Sustainability Reporting 2020, which was formulated based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) along with its SDG Reporting on 47 member factories. Besides, a video presentation on the strides made towards sustainability in Bangladesh’s garment industry was screened at the Bangladesh Pavilion.

The presentation drew a good number of visitors, including many brands and international media, who praised the achievements of Bangladesh’s apparel industry in the area of environmental sustainability. As such, the summit turned out to be a big opportunity for us to put forward the initiatives taken so far to mitigate climate change, renew our commitment, and seek cooperation for capacity building and green financing. Participation in the COP26 also presented an opportunity to keep the tempo of apparel diplomacy, which we kick-started in September through a month-long tour to the US and Canada.

In a sequel to that tour, this time around I along with BGMEA Vice President Miran Ali, Directors Asif Ashraf and Abdullah Hil Rakib, and Managing Director of Shasha Denims Ltd Shams Mahmud, visited three European countries, namely the UK, Belgium, and Scotland. Although the COP26 and climate change was the main focus of the tour, we held various meetings with stakeholders of the supply chain. In those meetings, we not only highlighted the progress and potential of Bangladesh’s garments sector but also discussed what partners in the international supply chain can do to supplement the efforts of manufacturers in mitigating climate change.

For example, on the sidelines of the COP26 summit, we had a meeting with Primark, one of the major procurement brands of Bangladeshi apparel. We expressed our support for the objectives Primark set out to change the ways its clothes are made, halve carbon emissions across the supply chain, and improve the lives of workers. To explore cost-effective ways of green financing in the apparel sector, we met with fund director Bob Assenberg and Director Bernadette Blom of the Good Fashion Fund (GFF) in Antwerp, Belgium.

The BGMEA and GFF have already inked a memorandum of understanding to support and strengthen the development and uptake of innovative sustainability solutions with a focus on improving environmental and social sustainability in our factories. As per the agreement, the GFF will provide a long-term loan alongside technical, environmental, and social expertise to manufacturers to adopt sustainable production.

In Belgium, I had the pleasure of attending the board meeting of the  International Apparel Federation (IAF) and the 36th IAF World Fashion Convention. There, I apprised the audience of the current status of Bangladesh’s apparel industry and its impressive strides, especially in areas of workplace safety, environmental sustainability, and workers’ wellbeing. It is worth mentioning that the next IAF Fashion Convention will be held in Dhaka in November 2022, which is going to be a momentous occasion for us.

To mark the occasion, we are planning to organize a week-long international program, styled “Made in Bangladesh Week”, featuring the 3rd Dhaka Apparel Summit, fashion festival, and exposition to name a few.

The IAF is the world’s leading federation for apparel manufacturers, and its annual conference in Dhaka is going to be a first-of-its-kind international program in Bangladesh.

During the visit we also met with Leslie Johnston, chief executive officer (CEO) of Laudes Foundation in Glasgow, Dirk Vantyghem, director-general of the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (EURATEX) in Antwerp, Mahbub Hassan Saleh, ambassador of Bangladesh to Belgium, Rushanara Ali and Rupa Huq, members of Parliament of the UK in London, and many other officials of British and European brands.

In those meetings, our discussions covered a range of issues on mutual interests related to the textile and apparel industry, its challenges, and opportunities.

We shared the incredible journey of Bangladesh’s garment industry in becoming a prestigious brand in the global apparel market and highlighted the success stories of the country’s garment industry, including its world-class standards in workplace safety and exemplary strides in environmental sustainability and commitment to achieving further excellence in the area of sustainability.

During the tour, we tried to hammer home the importance of ethical sourcing to ensure a sustainable supply chain and make a positive difference to workers’ lives, especially in the context of price declines coupled with increased production costs.

We also shed light on the future priorities set by Bangladesh’s apparel sector in pursuit of retaining its fame as a safe, sustainable, and competitive destination for apparel sourcing in the world.

Sustainable manufacturing has long been a mission and vision for Bangladeshi garment manufacturers, and this is an issue over which no dissenting voice can be heard.

The COP26 was an opportunity to revisit the issue, reinvigorate our commitment and showcase our progress.

However, building on the progress that we have made so far can be a decisive step towards cementing Bangladesh’s position as a lucrative apparel sourcing hub in the competitive global market.

The author is the president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

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