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Sustainable Growth: Empower Bangladesh's RMG Wrokers

Sustainable Growth: Empower Bangladesh's RMG Wrokers

A Digital Bangladesh dream became the aspiration of the youth during the decades after the third industrial revolution, and it was essentially required to transform the citizens into global standards. 

After a long run an establishment of the requisition has come to the light. However, as a developing country every step undoubtedly goes beyond the trend and can’t keep pace with the developed world. Now, the world is heading toward artificial intelligence, here only digitalization is not sufficient to cope up with the global economy and geo-political stand. 

Gladly, our government has the actualization of the matter, they already declared the mission ‘Smart Bangladesh’. Newly elected government of Bangladesh has defined through the a2i project that the term as “smart nation” is defined as “harnessing emerging technologies, networks, and data to create tech-enabled solutions that contribute to nation-building.”

What Is Smart Bangladesh?

Core pillars of Smart Bangladesh – Smart Citizen, Smart Government, Smart Society, and Smart Economy. With more clarifications, the government  projected some details to the public, according to them, “High-income GDP per capita of at least $12,500, Poverty-free: 0% extreme poverty and under 3% poverty, Macro economically stable: Low inflation (4-5%), low deficits (5% of GDP), increased investment (40% of GDP), and increased tax revenue (20% of GDP), High human development: 100% high-school education including digital literacy, and 100% health financing for everyone while making the best use of our demographic dividend, Sustainable urbanization: 80% urban nation with 100% electrification, majority from renewable sources, Service at fingertips: 100% public services paperless and cashless, and at the fingertips of 100% citizens in the way they desire”. 

Most importantly, Smart Bangladesh is all about establishing an equitable nation—equal rights, equal opportunities, with no marginalized groups.

Garments Are the Key Pillars

Now, we can have a short brief about our garment industries. Bangladesh currently has a total of 187 LEED-certified garment factories and 500 more are in the pipeline for getting the certification, according to the BGMEA data. The garment industry of Bangladesh started its journey in the sixties. Additionally, in the late seventies, this industry began to develop as an export-oriented sector. Currently it is the largest export oriented industry in Bangladesh. 

According to a report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Bangladesh’s clothing industry grew by 79 percent from $19bn in 2015 to $34bn in 2022, making the country the second-largest apparel exporter in the world while accounting for more than 80 percent of its export earnings. 

According to Bangladesh Export Development Bureau (EPB) data released on November 2023, Ready-made garments (RMG) export earnings rose by 5.95 percent to $14,783.10 million during the July-October period of fiscal year 2023-24, which is 8.86 percent below the target. Moreover, according to a research data of Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies (BILS), 3.2 million workers are currently working in the garment sectors in Bangladesh.

Challenges Haunted The Industry 

But this sector faces a lot of challenges like unskilled workers, increase in raw material prices, improper infrastructure, electricity crisis, gas shortage, insufficient bank loan associated with high rate of interest, intricate social compliance, global economic slowdown. One of the major problems of small-scale industries in Bangladesh is insufficient skilled technicians and workers. 

Furthermore, the workers have to face more struggle than the business itself, low wages and inadequate living standards are the main crisis. On top of that, clothing workers regularly face verbal and physical abuse. In some cases, when they fail to meet their (unreachable) daily target, they are insulted, denied breaks. Sexual assault, harassment, and violence are common experience for women workers. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 11.7 thousand workers die in fatal accidents, 24.5 thousand die from diseases related to their jobs, and an additional 8 million suffer injuries at work annually. 

According to data given by BGMEA, more than 80 percent of Bangladesh's 3,200 RMG factories are now globally compliant with safety and security requirements, having evolved from subpar sweatshops that cared little for the working environment of their workers.  

We may overcome the business berries by setting negotiation between stakeholders and government officials. The government is firmly in favor of digitizing industry infrastructures, and it has been actively promoting this goal in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector. Many projects have previously been launched with the goal of promoting the industry's growth, efficiency, and competitiveness on a worldwide scale. 

The "Digital Bangladesh Vision" lays the groundwork for changes in a number of industries, including RMG. Furthermore, the primary areas of focus are e-governance, streamlining administrative processes through digitization, and improving accessibility for RMG enterprises. Companies can get licenses, permits, and other required papers more quickly by updating government procedures. 

Collaboration between academic institutions and the RMG business fosters research, innovation, and the creation of technology solutions customized to meet the unique demands of the sector, in addition to government-led efforts.

What about the workers?

We are currently heading to the fourth industrial revolution. Worldwide, production processes are gradually incorporating robotics, automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Such innovations in the industrial process will be detrimental to Bangladesh's economy and the labor market. The demand for workers in the RMG sector is decreasing due to automation. 

However, the RMG industry in a nation like Bangladesh will take a long time to fully automate, and the procedure is very expensive. Fabric is transformed into ready-made clothing through fourteen procedures. The country's nine sectors will require 1.71 crore skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers in the fiscal year 2025–2026, according to a study by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS). 

The demand for labor in the ready-made garment (RMG) industry will be the highest, with a 10-year demand that is expected to reach 74.56 lakh. The study's conclusions indicate that there is now a skill gap in the RMG industry of 1,19,479 skilled people, 48,130 semi-skilled workers, and 8,577 unskilled workers. No move towards meeting the demand of 7.4 lakh workers is noticeable so far. So in the government's Smart Bangladesh mission, how to implement the primary goal of creating a smart industry, is now a major concern. 

It is not possible to bring such a big industry to the smart environment all at once, but if the beginning of that process is not possible yet, then the change in this sector will be delayed. And if this biggest sector of the country is not prioritized first, the Smart Bangladesh mission will be hampered in a big way.

I personally think that one more step should be added to the incentives given by the government in this industry, that is a specialized club to work for the welfare of garment workers which will be mandatory in every industry. Science has produced volumes of information about workers, productivity, behavior, motivation, and other issues. It will aim to meet the physical and mental needs of the workers in a scientifically sound manner. 

It will provide regular motivation and monitoring, Implement counseling and training as required. Stakeholders will prepare workers to adapt to each step towards establishing a smart industry. Certainly, to ensure sustainable growth of this sector, there is no alternative to ensuring a decent standard of living for the workers. Here, improving the quality of life of workers is inextricably linked to their productivity. 

It is clear to indicate that all four pillars of the ‘Smart Bangladesh’ mission are laying on the sentence ‘Facilitating workers by allocating smart dealer’. Smart dealer for the workers will be the club, and government should enforce this club for the sake of our economic growth preservation as well as shape the workers and the industry toward the mission.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tvista.

Md Zunaed Hossain

Md Zunaed Hossain


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