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Digital Map of Bangladesh’s RMG Factories Sets Milestone for Transparency

An interactive platform that plots every export-oriented ready-made garment (RMG) factory in Bangladesh’s Dhaka district will establish a new standard for ethics and transparency in the apparel industry, its creators say.

By compiling baseline information such as factory names, postal addresses, GPS coordinates, registration statuses, major clients, worker numbers, certifications and affiliations in a publicly available database, Mapped in Bangladesh (MiB) can help brands make better-informed business decisions with unprecedented ease and clarity, according to the Centre for Entrepreneurship Development of Brac University, which spearheaded the project with funding from C&A Foundation.

And it’s not just handy for buyers, MiB’s developers claim. Factories can employ the Google Maps-based tool to identify and learn from best practices in the sector to increase competitiveness in the market, boost internal accountability and highlight specialized products to gain new business. Worker-advocacy groups can use it to highlight challenges around specific aspects of the sector, such as worker participation or safety committees. Even government actors can leverage the platform to ensure compliance of existing legislation, assist inspection teams with locating factories or shape policy reform.

“The objective of MiB is to provide accurate, credible and updated RMG factory information to all industry stakeholders in a manner that enables greater efficiency, productivity, accountability and transparency,” Brac University noted in a statement. “Designed and built in Bangladesh, this powerful tool serves as a home-grown solution that further strengthens the country’s significant and thriving RMG industry.”

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Enumerators gleaned their data the old-fashioned way: by going door to door. To ensure its figures are accurate and up to date, the MiB team will seek input through public crowd-sourcing. The project is a collaborative effort behind the scenes, too: The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments under the Ministry of Labour and Employment is a strategic partner, as are the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

“MiB enables a collective action approach to advancements in the garment sector by bringing together key industry stakeholders,” said Linda Patentas, program manager for cities, supply chains and migration at Brac U.S.A., the American arm of the international development organization behind the university. “Transparency tools like MiB can continue to strengthen improvements and facilitate growth in the RMG industry.”

As a transparency-buttressing mechanism, the platform will serve as a launching point for rebranding Bangladesh’s garment industry, said Siddiqur Rahman, president of the BGMEA, alluding to tragedies like the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, which nearly sounded the death knell for sourcing in the South Asian nation. 

“We have made tremendous progress in safety and sustainability of the industry in recent years,” he said. “We believe the digital map will empower stakeholders across the industry, including factories, brands and retailers and government through establishing a better understanding about the industry and will help the users with correct and real-time information. This will strengthen the effectiveness of improvements already underway.”

An expanded map incorporating factories from across the country is set to be completed in 2021.

Bangladesh’s chief economic driver, the garment industry employs 3.5 million people, generates roughly $30 billion in exports per year and accounts for 80 percent of the country’s merchandise export earnings. The Bangladeshi government has said it wants to double the value of the RMG sector to $50 billion by 2030, in part by increasing market competition through digital technology.