Let’s imagine a land where garment workers had factories that provided a safe and pleasant working environment with greenery to spend their breaks in, additionally state-of-the-art machinery, free health care and child care, a fair price shop to do groceries, integrative policies for specially abled workers, empowerment training for female workers and initiatives that benefit the whole community.
Too good to be true? Or a scene from a Disney movie? Neither - garment factories in Bangladesh have actually come a long way to provide all of the above and more. It is hard to believe that this is the same country that exactly ten years ago made headlines with the fire at Tazreen Fashion in Ashulia, close to Dhaka, that cost 117 garment workers their lives and a few months later with the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, close to Dhaka, that cost more than 1,000 garment workers their lives and injured many more. These incidents shed light on substandard health and safety conditions, with fire doors and exits being non-existent or blocked, grave structural problems and an overall unsatisfying work environment and workers not empowered to speak up.
Fast forward ten years to 2022 and the Sustainability Leadership Award being given to 18 exceptional factories in Bangladesh as part of Made in Bangladesh Week on 17th November 2022. For the third time, The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and German-based Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH jointly organised the award.
Parliament speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, BGMEA president Faruque Hassan and GIZ project manager Michael Klode graced the occasion, with BGMEA director Abdullah Hil Rakib giving the welcome address. “Germany, ranking as number one importing country of textiles made in Bangladesh in the EU, is committed to continue supporting compliant factories alongside our partners, many of whom are present in this room tonight. Our Sustainable Leadership Award winners, the frontrunners of a thriving sector, are lighting the way ahead,” commented Klode.
In three main categories - Social Excellence, Environmental Excellence and Innovation Excellence - and three sub-categories each, a jury evaluated 254 applications from 84 participating factories based on parameters such as factory set-up, fire and safety measures, women empowerment, social initiatives in the larger community, water management and more. FashionUnited visited the event and has highlighted the most striking achievements of the individual factories below.
In the main category “Social Excellence”, Echotex in Gazipur was voted runner-up in the sub-category “Most convincing factory set-up” for its overall factory layout, staircase and emergency set-up and social standards among other plus points. Winner was Vintage Denim Studio in the Ishwardi Export Processing Zone (IEPZ) in Paksey. The jury liked the overall floor and machine layout, the air conditioning on all production floors, the ventilation, cooling, lighting and noise system, fire safety, the chemical management system, overall waste management, greenery, the factory’s Covid management and overall worker welfare and safety.
In the sub-category “Women empowerment at the workplace”, Pacific Jeans in Chittagong scored points for its overall gender policy, its pay gap analysis, women employees leadership training program, the integration of specially abled women and the number of women in higher positions (currently four). The winner was Ananta Garments Ltd. in Dhaka, employing 60 percent women employees with a gender gap wage percentage of only 1.25 percent, among other plus points.
In the sub-category “Best supported social initiatives in the neighbourhood of a factory”, Flamingo Fashion Ltd. in Gazipur was the runner-up for the establishment of a mini fire station and a school and college in the vicinity, also community programs and community education support. There is also a tree plantation project as well as a knowledge exchange program and a community beauty parlour that convinced the jury. Epyllion in Gazipur was the winner of this sub-category, scoring with a health care centre with free community healthcare services, supply of pure drinking water in various locations in the vicinity, a scholarship programme, the establishment of a school, college and online school, as well as a skills development training centre and a sports ground with playground and library.
In the next main category, “Environmental Excellence”, runner-up Zaber & Zubair Fabrics Ltd. in Tongi scored for its water control system, caustic recovery plant, economiser, energy-efficient generator, heat exchanger, rain water harvesting system as well as exhaust gas boiler and solar panels. Winner Envoy Textiles from Dhaka, called the “environmental champion of the year”, convinced the jury with its chemical and hazardous waste management system, overall recycling, resource efficiency and air emission control among others.
In the sub-category “Water use reduction over a year”, runner-up Universal Jeans Ltd. from Chittagong scored with its isometric view, water saving system, sustainable waste technique, process optimisation and zero discharge of hazardous materials, among others. Winner Color City Limited in Kashimpur convinced the jury especially with its rain water harvesting system that includes a 12,000 litre tank, resulting in water usage savings, its overall water management system and hot water and condensed water recovery.
In the sub-category “Recycling of textile waste material”, Karupannya Rungwal Ltd. in Rangpur City was announced as runner-up for its overall waste material use, production water recycling, textile waste fabric recycling and overall product flow. There were two winners in this sub-category, Cyclo & Simco Plc in Dhaka and Matin Spinning Mills in Gazipur, which convinced particularly through their yarn recycling and waste material recycling into high-quality fibres and yarns.
Last but not least, in the main category “Innovation Excellence”, J.M. Fabrics in Mirzapur was voted runner-up in the sub-category “Best innovation from a business perspective” for its world-class seamless facility. Winner Tarupanna Rongpur is known for its weaving and knitting skills and its product innovation and design innovation, for example with jute. It is a major Ikea supplier and also convinced in terms of technology and process innovation.
In the next sub-category, “Best Innovation for the Future”, runner-up Jinnat Knitwears Ltd. in Gazipur convinced the jury with the establishment of a mini fire station, among other plus points. Winner Beximco was awarded for its circularity, the integration of solar power panels, its water re-use and using biodegradable organic cotton and creating human-friendly products and fabrics with the lowest environmental impact.
In the sub-category “Best innovation for workers welfare”, runner-up SQ Celsius in Maona scored with its overall health awareness, the usage of the app/software Wagely and the Kinship digital platform, being an Agroshift partner and engaging workers outside of their work through celebrations. Winner Square Fashion Ltd. in Bhaluka convinced the jury with benefits like providing free lunch to all workers and free buses. The factory also has dormitories on site where currently 2,700 staff members and workers are residing. Workers also receive free child care, free medical care and subsidised sanitary napkins (at 25 percent off the regular price) and can avail of a fair price shop. It is also an inclusive factory that provides work for physically challenged workers. Many of the award-winning factories are also LEED certified.
Could all of Bangladesh’s garment and textile factories be measured according to these high standards? Certainly not - much still needs to improve for quite a few of them but one should say “not yet”. The industry has certainly pulled up its socks and made tremendous improvements with 48 out of 100 green factories currently being in Bangladesh. A big change is also geographical in nature, garment and textile factories having moved outside of residential areas and into dedicated industrial zones.
What the world did not realise, ten years ago when it pointed fingers at Bangladesh, is that not all garment factories were in such horrible conditions. In fact, there were many that valued their workers and took good care of them. Many of the winners and runner-ups mentioned here were also established around that time, starting off on the right foot. However, those were not the ones that made the news. Until now - the Sustainability Leadership Award certainly gives credit where credit is due.
“The main objective of this award is to recognise the best of the RMG industry and present them to the global audience in order to promote compliance. I believe such a programme would tremendously uplift the image of our apparel industry at home and abroad. At the same time, it will encourage us further for sustainable development,” said Hassan.
No doubt, it is a tremendous feat for the country to set up so many of these exceptional factories in just a few years that will hopefully set the standard high for those still lagging behind in Bangladesh and elsewhere. More information on each factory can be found on the Mapped in Bangladesh website that strives to list a majority of the country’s garment and textile factories, on the BGMEA website or the individual company websites.