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AAFA, BGMEA Shake Hands on New Partnership

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) have reached an accord.

The two trade groups signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the AAFA Executive Summit in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to explore opportunities to increase trade access for Bangladesh to the U.S. market, refine purchasing practices, build on Bangladesh’s progress on sustainability and expand the “strong partnership” between the new countries.

“Together, we aim to develop joint programs that train workers and mid- and top- management, explore new CSR initiatives to support the wellbeing of the workers and communities and more,” BGMEA president Faruque Hassan said in a statement.

Steve Lamar, AAFA’s president and CEO, said that agreements with strategic partners such as the BGMEA help reduce trade barriers, encourage the sharing of best practices and promote innovation on behalf of its organization’s members, which include Adidas, Gap and J.Crew.

“AAFA’s comprehensive work ensures the continued success and growth of the global apparel and footwear industry, its suppliers, and its customers,” he said. “Today’s collaboration marks increased capacity building to support joint practices and trainings to advance supply chain sustainability, expand trade opportunities [and] improve the buyer-supplier partnership.”

In September, Hassan urged U.S. buyers to be more “rational” in their pricing demands to promote better jobs and safer and more sustainable workplaces.

“Our factories are increasingly investing money for safety and sustainability. Besides, production cost has gone up by more than 30 percent in last five years,” he said at a roundtable of senior U.S. and Bangladesh government officials and representatives from the U.S-Bangladesh Business Council, the AAFA, Target and Walmart, also in Washington, D.C. “On the contrary, the price of our apparel is declining every year. While it’s a fact that in a free market economy price cannot be dictated…nobody can justify a lower price to produce socially fair goods.”

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BGMEA has been on a deal-making spree as it tries to shore up not only its sector’s competitiveness but also its reputation as a safe and reliable sourcing destination following its post-Rana Plaza overhaul. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest exporter of clothing after China, although Vietnam has recently been giving it a run for its money. The nation’s garment exports to the United States jumped more than 45 percent year over year in January to surpass $755.71 million, according to trade data.

Last month, the BGMEA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the German Agency for International Cooperation, better known as GIZ, and consultancy firm Particip to increase engagement between factory management and workers through stronger factory committees. In January, the organization linked arms with the International Labour Organization to train 700 safety-committee representatives from 75 factories to identify, assess and manage potential fire, infrastructure and Covid-19 dangers.

The BGMEA noted Thursday that it will be working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Care Bangladesh and Calvin Klein owner PVH Corp. on a five-year, $5 million project to expand professional development opportunities for more than 100,000 female garment workers.

The USAID Thrive project, which will roll out in factories and communities in the Dhaka, Chattogram and Narayanganj districts, will “will strengthen women’s advocacy and negotiation skills within the workplace and in their communities to advance their rights and help them overcome gender-related barriers and the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.