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Expert: Bangladesh’s Garment Factories Must Shore Up Sustainability to Compete

Garment factories in Bangladesh must continue to invest in sustainable improvements if they seek to remain competitive with the rival manufacturing hubs of Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam, a leading data-analytics firm warned Tuesday.

While nearly 70 factories in the South Asian nation have adopted the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which rates buildings based on energy and water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions and other eco-friendly performance measures, more “need to get on board.”

Eight factories in Bangladesh are certified LEED Platinum, which is the highest achievable level. (Other tiers in the program are certified, Silver and Gold.)

“Bangladesh factory owners are growing increasingly concerned they are losing business to competitor sourcing countries,” Hannah Abdulla, apparel correspondent at GlobalData, said in a statement. “Where buyers were previously concerned with mass-produced, cheap goods, the focus is now on better quality and sustainably sourced (value-added) items.”

Already, Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest exporter of clothing after China, plans to increase its garment exports from $34 billion in the financial year ending in 2019 to $50 billion in 2021.

If Bangladesh wants to increase investments, however, it needs to make more ambitious changes to attract additional businesses from higher-paying customers.

With eco-credentials playing a greater role in how consumers today shop, Abdulla said, green factories have an “edge” that sets them apart.

“While change has happened at several factories, this needs to be scaled up. More factories need to get on board if Bangladesh is going to convince global players it remains a worthy contender in the readymade garment space,” she added. “For the national industry to be viewed as one that is an environmentally sustainable apparel sector with an international reputation for good practice, it needs to move beyond a minority of factories implementing sustainable measures.”

Factory safety is another ongoing concern for Bangladesh’s manufacturing industry, which was rocked in recent months by a series of disasters, including a boiler explosion that killed a woman outside the capital of Dhaka in December. The same month, a blaze at an illegal plastics factory, also on the outskirts of Dhaka, killed eight people and injured two dozen others.

Experts from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and Nirapon, the safety monitoring organization meant to succeed the retired Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety but has been suspended by the Bangladesh High Court, recently held a meeting to discuss the newly drafted Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC).

“Stakeholders from the private and public sectors agreed that the fire section of the BNBC needed to be further strengthened,” Nirapon noted, adding that recommendations will be forthcoming.

Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, a trade group of factory owners, previously said that the revised BNBC will help Bangladesh factories escape “suppression” from Western prescriptions from organizations like the Alliance and the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which is phasing out in favor of a Readymade Garment Sustainability Council. She also said that Bangladesh factories have been forced into pouring large amounts of time and money into remediation efforts that don’t work or are inappropriate for their purpose. 

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