“Bangladesh needs to put emphasis on three key issues—products development, efficiency enhancement and sustainability in manufacturing to take the lead in the world apparel export,” Ziaur Rahman, country manager of Swedish retail giant H&M for Bangladesh, Pakistan and Ethiopia, told DhakaTribune’s Ibrahim Hossain Ovi in an interview.
Ziaur shared his views during the Bangladesh Denim Expo held on November 5-6 in Dhaka, where they collaborated with Denim Expo to promote sustainability.
Why is sustainability important?
Like it or not, we still have only one planet. Today, customers want to know how the product was produced, its impact on environment, working conditions, how people behind its production were treated, etc.
This is why we have set up clear ambitions and bold goals. By 2040, H&M Group aims to have a climate-positive value chain.
H&M Group’s sustainability work is integrated in our culture. A long-term approach is necessary to dealing with complex sustainability. We work to ensure sustainability integrate it with everything we do.
H&M is the largest buyer of Bangladeshi apparel goods. We want to use our size and scale to lead the change towards fully circular and truly sustainable fashion.
If we want to take the lead in the world apparel export, I believe three major areas that we need to emphasis which are products development, efficiency and sustainability.
Bangladesh also needs to look into its energy policy, water policy, worker rights, working conditions, as well as wages.
How can a brand help apparel makers to increase efficiency?
We have an internal team of 20 professional industrial engineers to help our suppliers in increasing efficiency. Our suppliers must have an industrial engineer. It is free of cost and has been become very popular.
We are doing it because it is our job. It’s about quality fashion products at best price. This is a market, which has lots of opportunity, and as a brand we need it. It is our responsibility to increase efficiency and it is our core activity for our suppliers.
How can brands or retailers contribute to sustainable supply chain?
It is not a job for a single company, person nor a single stakeholder. It is a shared responsibility and everyone has a vital role to play. Partnership, share knowledge or collaboration is the key to success.
We are amazed to find the work of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange and Mostafiz (founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo,) who is working on sustainability in the apparel supply chain.
So, in the 2nd Sustainable Apparel Forum, H&M joined to contribute to the sustainable supply chain.
How can Bangladesh avail better prices of goods?
Bangladesh is a seller market and has never been challenged. Buyers come here and place orders, which is how we get work.
Now, the trend has changed, because you have more capacity than the demands and the buyers have option to choose. Then the competition started as a result of which, prices went down. This is unhealthy competition.
Everyone talks about how H&M cannot talk about prices. Yes, we will talk about prices, I will push a lot for efficiency improvement.
If you go to Sri Lanka, their efficiency is about 70%, while Bangladesh’s, the second largest exporter of apparel goods, is about 50%. That is the key, to increase efficiency.
On top of that, the makers have to move towards high valued products.
What is the comparative advantage of Bangladesh against its competitors in the global market?
The great advantage of Bangladesh is its capacity to produce bulk amount of goods, which others cannot replace.
On the other hand, the quality of products is good and Bangladesh can meet buyers’ demands in a shorter span of time.
Besides, in terms of workplace safety, Bangladesh has attained significant improvement, which was not couple of years ago.
What should Bangladeshi makers do to retain the buyers as the global consumption dropped?
Bangladesh is a very attractive sourcing destination for apparel goods. We have some world-class suppliers in Bangladesh.
I think, the time has come for marketing that we have more business made in Bangladesh with pride.
We have lot of local industry, which are world class in terms of eco-friendly and safety. It is important to let the people really know about it.
As of now, Bangladesh has the highest number of certified green factories, while it safety standard in the apparel sector is upgraded as per the buyers recommendation.
Do you think buying practices should be standardized or aligned with sustainability?
It is very important how we source products. Sustainability does not mean only environmental impacts, it has a big part of social aspects.
Practices of ethical buying is necessary, it cannot be that you simply reduce products’ prices.
Each and every product that you produce, the people behind the products should be paid well, while the minimum wage should be as per living wages. As a brand, H&M is committed to this as a part of sustainability.
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